Diggin' up Dead People

A Genealogy Blog

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.


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!