Diggin' up Dead People

A Genealogy Blog

Happy Thanksgiving

Hoping everyone has a great day with family and friends filled with love food and laughter!


Memorial Day

998836_10201501954175907_1451387844_nMemorial Day in the United States is designated to remember and honor those men and women who died in service of our country.  Originally conceived following the Civil War, it was called Decoration Day, a day to lay wreaths, flowers, flags and decorations on the graves of those soldiers who had died.  The first observance was on May 30, 1868, by proclamation of General John Logan, national commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic.  It was his intention that observance of the day be continued annually. New York, in 1873, was the first state to declare it a holiday, and most northern states quickly followed.  At that time southern states celebrated their dead on a separate day.  In the aftermath of World War I the observance was expanded to honor those that had served in any American war.   In 1971, Congress officially declared Memorial Day a federal holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May.


John Shaw Vitty was probably born 1822 in Canada, a few years before his parents, Joseph Vitty and Mary Ann (Shaw) Vitty, emigrated to the United States.  The household of Joseph Vitty is in the 1825 census for Montreal, it consists of 2 adults and 2 children.  One of those children is Harriet Vitty, Joseph’s oldest daughter and my 3rd great grandmother, the other is presumably John Shaw Vitty, my 3rd great grand uncle.

Joseph and Mary Ann were both born in England, and Canada appears to have been a brief settling point on their way to the United States.  By about 1826 they lived and raised their family in New York’s lower east side.  Several more children were born to the couple.  After his father’s death in 1849, John helped to support his mother, Mary Ann.

In 1860, after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, tensions in the US were high.  Disputes over slavery, economic and cultural disparities sharply divided the North and South.  Although he did not win in a single southern state, in November of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States of America.  Shortly following the election, several Southern states, lead by South Carolina, seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.  The United States did not recognize the legitimacy of this newly declared nation.  By early 1861, hostilities had increased and war seemed imminent. On April 12, 1861, Confederate  were fired on United States Fort Sumter; war was declared.

John Shaw Vitty enlisted for the Union army April 20, 1861.  He became part of the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Colonel E. E. Ellsworth, a friend of President Lincoln, recruited New York Firefighters and the 11th became known as the “First Fire Zouaves” aka  “Ellsworth Fire Zouaves”.  Ellsworth thought the firemen to be particularly suited to soldiering and wanted an elite unit.  John was part of company F, under Captain William Burns.




This was to be an exceptional unit of men, newspaper articles of the time said that many more, possibly twice as many, than the 1200 men requested volunteered for the unit.
The company left New York April 29, 1861 and arrived at Washington about May 3 for training. They were mustered into service at Washington, D.C., May 7, 1861. One of the first time the company was called upon was to assist the local firemen in extinguishing a blaze at the Willard Hotel on May 10th.  So many of his Fire Zouaves responded that Col. Ellsworth took command at the scene.

The 1st Fire Zouaves, first stationed at Washington, D.C., had by late May, moved outside of the city and then on to occupy Alexandria in the newly declared Confederate State of Virginia. It was there that the first Union officer was killed. As he took down and removed an 8×14 foot Confederate flag from the Marshall House (inn), Colonel E. E. Ellsworth was instantly killed by a shot fired by innkeeper James Jackson   One of Ellsworth’s men, Corporeal Francis Brownell then killed Jackson.  Colonel Ellsworth’s remains rested in state at the White House before being returned to New York.


Colonel Ellsworth shot as he descends a stairway carrying a flag by a Rebel sympathizer who is confronted by a Zouave carrying a rifle fixed with bayonet.  Death of Col. Ellsworth after hauling down the rebel flag, at the taking of Alexandria, Va., May 24th 1861. Public domain photo from the Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91793355/

After the death of Ellsworth, the unit was under the command of Lt Col Farnham.  For the remainder of May, into June and early July the unit was engaged principally with the construction of Fort Ellsworth near Alexandria.  They were brigaded with other units under General Wilcox.  In mid-July they were among the troops sent by order of Brig. General McDowell to advance on the Confederate troops on Manassass.

In the predawn hours of July 21, 1861, 11th NY Infantry and others began a long march to Sudley Ford, ultimately to flank the Confederates.  Relative inexperience, poor maps and inaccurate pre-scouting contributed to the grueling difficulty the soldiers faced.  When the tired troops reached the Confederates they fought with great valor, but ultimately the Union forces were defeated.  The First Zouaves suffered heavy casualites.

A animation about the Battle of Bull Run was created by The Civil War Trust. A link to the video can be found here: Bull Run Animated Map  (at about 3:51 -4:15 you can see the NY 11th on the field).


Bull Run 1861

Battle of Bull Run. Library of Congress, no known restrictions on use. http://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/pga/00300/00335v.jpg


John Shaw Vitty died in the service of his country, July 21, 1861 at the Battle of Bull Run.  Mary Ann Vitty, applied for a mother’s pension as she had been dependent on her son.  The file includes supporting documentation from Captain Burns.


John Shaw Vitty Page 18


His remains are among those gathered from the battlefield and interred at Arlington National Cemetery, marked by the Civil War Unknowns Monument.


Civil War Monument

Civil War Unknowns monument, designed by Montgomery Meigs and dedicated in 1866, at Arlington Cemetery. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, no known restrictions on use. https://lccn.loc.gov/2015650835


Thank you Uncle John Shaw Vitty.


DNA Drabbles

Where in the world, and who in the world, do I come from?  That is one of the big questions in genealogy.  Geographically at least, DNA testing has helped me answer part of that questions.

After testing with the Family Tree DNA, 23 and Me, and Ancestry DNA it’s pretty clear I come from Europe.  To be more specific- Western Europe.  Though the results were not the same, they were very consistent among the testing services.



23and Me Ethnicity Results


Family Tree DNA origins

Ancestry.com DNA


Other miscellaneous factoids my DNA testing has revealed:

My eye color is likely brown- but I can see that in the mirror!

My parents were not blood related to one another.

My husband and I are related to each other only by marriage, not by our DNA.

23 and Me also has given me some pretty interesting health data (I tested before the FDA dispute).

Ancestry has given me a “new ancestor discovery”.  I do not know yet how or if this person fits into my tree, but am still looking to find out!

Fast caffeine metabolizer: “drinking coffee didn’t increase subjects’ heart attack risk”  Thats truly a good thing to hear!


How many ancestors can I name?

I’d like to credit Cathy Meder-Dempsey’s post, “My Ancestor Score as of Valentine’s Day 2016” at her blog Opening Doors in Brick Walls as the inspiration for my finding my Ancestor Score.


The idea of “Ancestor Score” is to calculate how many ancestors of you can identify in each generation, starting with yourself, and, in many examples, ending at 10 generations back.  Ten generations back would be 7x great grandparents.  As you go back, the number of ancestors doubles with each generation, so you have 512 7x great-grandparents!  And how far back in time is that?  On average, there are 3-4 generations per century, so 10 generations is between about 250-330 years!

The calculation of the ancestor score is pretty straightforward- it is who you know divided by how many there are.  You can see the score per generation and a total score over all ten generations.  It was a humbling experience!

Generation Relationship Possible # Identified # Percentage
1 Me- Yup I know this one, LOL 1 1 100%
2 Parents 2 2 100%
3 Grandparents 4 4 100%
4 Great-Grandparents 8 8 100%
5 2x   Great-Grandparents 16 12 75%
6 3x   Great-Grandparents 32 20 62.5%
7 4x   Great-Grandparents 64 24 37.5%
8 5x   Great-Grandparents 128 14 10.9%
9 6x   Great-Grandparents 256 3 0.01%
10 7x   Great-Grandparents 512 0 0%
Total   1023 88 0.08%

I was doing really well up through my great grandparents!  Of these great grandparents I was able to name parents for all but 2, so even in generations 5 and then 6, things were solid.

It was looking at the later generations that put things in a different light.  I have tested DNA with the 3 major genetic genealogy companies: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA and 23 and me.  My personal genealogy results have been less than enlightening.  I match a ton of people that I have no idea why we match.  Furthermore, most of these contacts seem to have no clue either!  In a quest to further figure things out I’ve also uploaded my results to GedMatch. It is all a bit overwhelming!  I wondered if my paper trail genealogy contained some huge errors!

My ancestor score chart put some perspective on the situation.  My first cousins match at generation 3, second at generation 4 and so on. Sixth cousins would match at generation 8- we share 5th great grandparents. So someone who matches me at 6th cousin and I have 128 possible common ancestors and I do not know even the names of 114 of these possibilities!  Many of my matches are at the 4th-6th cousin or more distant level.  So, I can see now why I’ve had so much difficulty with reconciling my DNA matches to my known ancestors.  Although I “knew” that the reason matches seemed to be perplexing was because I just hadn’t (and likely neither had the match) gone back far enough in our ancestry- seeing it visually in the chart made that reason much clearer for me!





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John P Hall

John was born March 25, 1839 in Montgomery county, New York, likely on the family farm.  The youngest child of John W and Maria (Duryea) Hall; he was the brother of my third great grandmother, Catherine (Hall) Serviss.  The children of John and Maria span some 27 years from about 1812-1839.  John P. was born about two years after his nephew, my 2nd great grandfather, Hiram Serviss.

John P Hall lived most of his life on the Hall family farm in Charleston/Glen.  He is first listed by name with his parents in the 1850 United States Census for Charleston, New York.  (Earlier US census records included on the head of household by name.  Subsequent household members were recorded by tick marks in columns of age range.)  In 1850, as a boy of 11 he is listed without occupation, and in 1855 he is listed as a child of 16. In 1860, he appears as a single man, alongside his parents with the occupation of farmer.  In June 1863, on the draft registration list, he describes himself as a 24 year old, single, white, farmer born in Charleston.  Although listed as subject to military duty, there does not appear to be any record that John P Hall served in either of the Union or Confederate armies.  The Enrollment Act of 1863 required that able bodied men between the ages of 20 and 45 be registered for potential service in the Union army.  Although exceptions were made, it appears that the exclusions would not apply to John P., therefore if he did not serve it was likely because he had furnished a substitute or had paid a $300. support fee in lieu of service.

John remained unmarried and with his parents on the farm.  When his father, John W Hall, died in 1874, John P. Hall took over the farm.  His mother remained with him until her death in 1878.  In 1875 the household consisted of John P, his mother Maria, Mary Teeple, Abram Fero and Danforth Hall.   John W. Hall’s will had left his estate to to Maria, for her exclusive use and benefit throughout her lifetime or until (if) she had remarried.  By his will, John W Hall had named his son, Francis, the executor of his estate.  At the probate of the will, Francis refused executorship and John P. was named executor of the estate.  Over the next several years, John P. paid the legacies due to his living sisters and the child of his deceased sister.  Through several transactions, he  bought out his siblings’ interest in the farm, leaving him sole owner.

John, a republican, was elected Charleston Town Supervisor February 11(?) 1880.  He remained on the farm and unmarried, later in 1880 his household enumerated on the census consisted of a housekeeper, Mary Teeple, and two servants, Hettie Holmes, and H Osterhout.  H Osterhout is likely  Hezekiah Osterhout and is extended family, through the wife of his nephew Danforth Hall (son of James Hall- eldest son of John W and Maria Hall).  Mary Teeple remains with John through the 1920 census, and Hezekiah is a farm laborer for John in 1892 and 1900.  In 1915, it only 76 year old John P Hall and 62 year old Mary Teeple enumerated at the farm, and later that year, in September, John P Hall listed the farm as available for lease or sale in the local newspaper, however, in 1920 he still owned and is enumerated on the farm.  The farm was sold in 1924 to a “party from Cranberry Creek”.

The next year John P Hall is enumerated in the home of Jay and Mary Hughes along with Della Nhare, a distant relation. John died just short of his 88th birthday on March 10, 1927 at the home of his niece, Georgianna Hall Olmsted.

Sources: (complete references upon request)

1850 United Stated Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

New York, State Census, 1855 Charleston, Montgomery, New York

1860 United States Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

U.S., Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010)  Record for John P Hall.

New York State Census, 1865, Charleston, ED 02, Montgomery, New York

1870 United States Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

1875 New York State Census, Montgomery, New York

Montgomery County, New York, “Will Book,”

1880 United States Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

1892 New York State Census, Montgomery, New York

1900 United States Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

1905 New York State Census, Montgomery, New York

1910 United States Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

1915 New York State Census, Montgomery, New York

1920 United States Federal Census, Montgomery, New York

Old Fulton New York Post Cards, The Amsterdam Evening Recorder, various dates

1925 New York State Census, Montgomery, New York

Town of Glen, Register of Deaths


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New Years 2016

I’ve spent part of this first week of the new year thinking of what family history goals I am looking to pursue.  I’ve thought about the research I’ve done, where I want to look for more answers and what methods I can use to achieve my goals.

Important for me to achieve goals is to think of the how in detail.  Equally important is to give myself some semblance of accountability.  Putting them in writing here in this blog, saying what it is I hope to do is something that puts some of that accountability on me.

While I really enjoyed the 52 Ancestors challenge, and I am so grateful that it spurred me to start a blog, one of the problems I ran into was the shifting ancestor of the week format.  I tried very hard to match an ancestor to a particular weekly (very optional but my option was to use it!) theme.   This meant that one week I might be looking at an ancestor from England on my dad’s side and the next week an ancestor from Brooklyn on my mom’s side.  It was sometimes very jumpy for me to get my head around.  This year, I am thinking in terms of thirds and setting new goals in each third.  I plan to concentrate on one geographic area and family line in 4 month chunks.  If nearing the end of the period, I decide to stay on that line, make it a semi annual goal, so be it.  Of course, if something juicy falls into my lap that lies outside of my goal area I won’t ignore it…but I plan on trying to immerse myself in both the history of the area as well as my ancestors place in that area.

A couple of years ago I began to trace all the descendants of my ancestor John W Hall of Montgomery co. New York.  My first goal area is to *finish* the work I’ve begun on these lines.  (Ok so genealogy is never finished per se).  I had hoped to publish a work detailing the descendants of John, so finished for my purposes is getting this ready for publication in some form, either as an article within a genealogical journal or as a stand alone work.

As I research the people on this line, I hope to continue to blog about my ancestors.  While last year I restricted myself to posting about direct line ancestors, this year I do not plan to exclude siblings and spouses, step children and associates. While not my direct line ancestors, these people shared in and shaped the lives of my ancestors and many of their experiences were shared common experiences.  In that same vein, I do not plan to limit to a person or a couple per post as I had in last year’s posting.

New direction for a New Year!

Happy New Year!


Hello 2016!



I wish all a very Happy New Year!

May you be Strong and Healthy!

May your Happiness Grow!

May your Brick Walls come tumbling down!



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Goodbye 2015!

Out with the old and in with the new!


This is my last 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks post.  Although I didn’t quite make 52, I didn’t do too bad- I was able to highlight 42 of my ancestors in 2015.  I am thankful to Amy Johnson Crow at NoStoryTooSmall for proposing the challenge and continuing it in 2015.  I am glad I participated and put some of the genealogy I’ve been working on out on this blog for others to share.


Although the weekly 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge will not be continued in 2016, I do intend on continuing to blog about the ancestors.  So hope to see you next year!

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Week 43: Oops: James and Lydia Serviss, the parents that weren’t

The optional theme for week 43 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge offered by Amy Johnson Crow was “Oops”.  There have been more than a few oops moments along the way in discovering my family’s history and origins.

When I was new at researching and recording genealogy, like many newbies, I was terrible at citing sources.  Like many, I thought I would remember where I got a particular piece of information, or if I did create a source of sorts, it was utterly useless when I tried to find the information again.  I am glad to say that is no longer the case and although some of my current source and citations may not be in a standardized format, they are at least useful.

In week 8 I wrote about my third great grandfather James Serviss.  I am still looking to find his parents.  Once upon a time, I thought I had.

I had recorded James Serviss parents as James and Lydia Serviss in my tree with no supporting documentation.  That tree had been posted as a public tree, and a few years back another researcher contacted me for the source of my information.   Of course, this was several years later, and by that time I had been in the habit of using sources so when I discovered that this was unsourced, I tried to find the source of the information.  Contrary to whatever belief I had at the time I recorded the information, I had NO IDEA where that came from! Furthermore, when I tried to work out who James and Lydia were I found that they were much too young to be James’ parents and clearly were in error.  I apologized to the other researcher for not being able to provide a source and changed my tree.

Fast forward several years.  I find evidence of a James and Lydia Serviss in a nearby town who married in about 1810.  My James was born in about 1812 so that fits!  Perhaps I wasn’t completely off at first?!

Unfortunately, I did trace James and Lydia forward and it appears they are not the parents I am looking for.  So the search continues….



Down to the wire…

19 days left in 2015!  Admittedly, this plan of writing a post a each week did not work out as expected.  Life certainly can get in the way of the best laid plans!  I’ve not given up though.  10 posts left, 19 days…only time will tell!