Some days I become tired and discouraged about trying to produce a blog post every two weeks.  When I have the time to write something I consider interesting or useful I would like it to be read. Sometimes it feels like no one is looking.  Then there are the other times.  These are the times that keep me blogging.

Here are some of the things this blog has brought me:

1.  Contact with cousins I already know, but don’t hear from very often.  I am a dreadful correspondent and it is wonderful to know that my cousins are reading this and enjoying some of the stories I am telling.  As an additional bonus one of them occasionally is able to identify a photograph or add details to a story.

2.  I have found new cousins in many of my family lines.  This is fun just on the face of it, but has also opened up new areas of research and but new branches on my tree.

3.  Inquiries and invitations from all sorts of places.  I have been invited to softball games in Washington state, cemetery cleanups and dedications in Michigan, and bed and board in many places by kind and trusting relatives.

4.  I have received information and permission to use materials in this blog from all over, but the latest and best falls into the kindness of strangers category.  I tell this story mostly because it was such a wonderful experience for me, but also to remind us all that it is possible and wonderful to preserve a piece of someone else’s family history.


I have written  about my husband’s great aunts, Amy and Jessie Martin before.  You can read that post here.


The Martin Sisters



A few weeks ago I received an email from a volunteer at the Willamette Valley Heritage Center.  I am leaving the names of the various people out of this piece to preserve their privacy.  The Center had come into the possession of 80 photographs belonging to the Martin sisters, many of which were family photos.  They had searched the internet and found my piece on Amy and Jessie and wondered if this was indeed my family and if I could fill in any details of the family history.  I filled in precious few details and in return I received 80 thumbnail photos with their catalog entries including the information written on the back of the photos.  Almost all of the photos were labeled or dated or both.


I wondered how the center had come into possession of these photos and they passed the donor’s name on to me with permission to contact her. My donor, let’s call her Jane, passed on the story of the journey of the photograph’s to me.

Jane’s mother lived across the street from the janitor who worked at the school where Amy Martin taught.  One day Jane’s mother was visiting the janitor’s wife, when the janitor arrived with a sack of old photos and handed them off to Jane’s mother saying, “I know you like old stuff.”

The photos were then passed on to Jane who has an interest in Victorian era things.

They sat in a closet for 10 years until Jane decided to take a serious look at them and saw that most of the photos were dated and signed.  On the advice of a friend Jane took the photos to the Willamette Heritage Center.

A wonderful volunteer and the Director of Acquisitions for the Center took an interest in the photos and in the ladies to whom they belonged.  They researched the Martin family and in searching the internet found my piece on the Martin sisters and contacted me.


And so the photographs which could so easily have found their way to a dumpster found their way to the museum and to me.


A complete stranger took the time to take these photos to a history center and the center made the effort to track me down.  I am so very grateful to them both.


I live in Connecticut, but will be attending a wedding in Portland, Oregon soon.  Our time there will be limited, but I am trying very hard to work in a trip to the Willamette Heritage Center to meet the people who saved these photos and thank them in person and to see the originals for myself.





On this Mother’s Day 2012 my thoughts have turned to the women in our families who were not mothers.

Today motherhood is a choice, many women both married and unmarried live fulfilling lives without children, but what about our ancestors.  In the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth marriage was the norm and children were Social Security. For women without children the end of life was often difficult. I like to find the stories of these women in our past and be sure that they are remembered

Here are two very different stories from my husband’s side of the family.


Amy and Jessie Martin:

Jessie and Amy Martin

Jessie and Amy martin

I have written before about Jessie and Amy Martin.  They were born in Michigan in 1873 and 1881 and moved to Oregon with their parents.  They spent decades as schoolteachers in Oregon.  The end of life was very difficult for them.  They struggled with financial hardship and poor health, as Amy wrote in a letter to my mother-in-law in 1959, “There were so many things she would have liked to do but lack of money was the drawback for all of us.”  They both passed away in the Methodist home in Salem, Oregon, Jessie in 1959 and Amy in 1982.


Eliza Jane Cole

Eliza Cole Thorpe

Eliza was born in Ireland in 1870 and came to America with her family in 1873.  The family moved to Nebraska and then to Oregon.  Eliza became a Seventh day Adventist Minister.  She married for the first time at the age of 50 to George Thorpe. I believe it was the first marriage for George as well. Eliza seemed to thrive as a minister and was well cared for by the Adventists.  She was visited several times a week by her niece and nephew.  A letter to my husband’s grandfather from Eliza’s nephew states, “We see Eliza once or twice a week.  She always speaks so fondly of you.  You know, of course, that she has not been in her own home for this past year.  The conference has substantially increased her allowance and that plus rental from her home leaves her well provided for.”  Eliza died in Vancouver, WA in 1955.

There are many more examples on both sides of our families. This is a busy time in my life and I have had little time for research.  I expect things to slow down a bit in September and I also intend to find out about these women’s lives and bring them back, if not to life, to remembrance



There were two Jessie Martins, one was a flesh and blood woman born in October of 1873 and the other was a Great Lakes schooner built in Muskegon, Michigan in 1881. This is their story.

The Martins were Scotch-Irish.  They emigrated from Northern Ireland about 1819 and came to the U.S. after a brief stop in Quebec. William Martin, Sr., Jessie’s grandfather, arrived in St. Lawrence County, New York married Mary Cady, and helped found the small town of Edwards.  Their oldest son, William, was born there in 1829, to be followed by six brothers and sisters. The Martins prospered in Edwards.  Family lore says the Martins were all teachers, but town history has William in the hotel and distillery business.  I expect there was more money to be made from whisky than from education.  The merits of a fine bottle of Scotch and a fine education are hopefully not mutually exclusive and William may have done some teaching as well.

Jessie Martin

Whatever their occupations in Edwards the family moved on to Michigan about 1855. William, Jr. met and married Rosa Blood and they settledin Muskegon where their first child, Jessie, was born.  In 1881 William commissioned Henry Footlander to build a Great Lakes schooner. Great Lakes shipping was a booming business.  The ships delivered supplies all around the lakes from Chicago northward.  They carried lumber and ore for manufacturing and food and other supplies to growing towns and cities. William named his schooner after his oldest daughter, Jessie.

Things went well until Nov. 23, 1882 when disaster struck.  The ship ran aground, but was not seriously damaged and the crewmembers were all safely removed.  On Nov. 30, William Martin engaged John Dibble to pull the ship off.  Here is an abbreviated account of what ensued from local newspapers

Schooner Jessie Martin

“At ten o’clock the tug, then lying abreast of the south pier, steamed away, the tow-line tautened, and the schooner came off the beach with a plunge, and seemed to stand on end between the seas, the water meanwhile bursting upward and madly sheeting all over her.  The next instant she plunged downward, covered with foam and spray, then mounted again bow up, as though she were going to leave the sea, the breakers still scattering over her, and continued her progress in this way under the strain of the tow line, striking the bottom so heavily with each descent as to jar all her timbers, and make the men on board afraid her masts would be unstepped and thrown out of her….What ensued was as speedy as awful.  The wretched vessel, lolling in the trough of the seas, so full of water as to be without buoyancy, pushed by the gale upon her port side and pulled by the towline upon the other, instead of coming around under the strain, was simply dragged down and rolled over like a log to starboard, settling upon her bulwarks until her masts lay in the water.  As she toppled, the sea burst all over her hull in a furious cascade, and her hatches fell off and floated away.  The men aboard as she capsized scattered out into her rigging in a wild scramble for their lives. Encumbered by their clothing, their struggles on an overturning ship, in the whirl of dying water, were of necessity terrible.  Three reached the main shrouds, two got to the fore cross-trees and one to the main. The remaining man, Mr. Dibble, had been in the passageway alongside the cabin on the starboard side, and the men in the shrouds could see him, near the surface of the water in that region, vainly trying to climb the main boom.  As he had but one arm, and was hampered by the abundance of his clothing, his efforts were ineffectual.  For a short time he moaned and struggled in the water., but gradually the sounds and motions ceased, and he slowly drowned.”

A truly heroic rescue followed, saving all of the remaining men.

The ship was eventually pulled to shore, but for William Martin this was a catastrophic loss.  The family fortunes never recovered from the loss of the Jessie Martin.

The Jessie Martin was sold to Charles Christensen of Wisconsin. On August 18, 1908 she was carrying a load of lumber when a gale struck off of Ludington, Michigan. The ship sprung a leak, the hull was broken in two and the Jessie Martin sank.  She remains on the bottom of Lake Michigan to this day.

In 1885 the Martin family moved to Oregon and settled in Dayton where William Martin tried to find work and 12-year-old Jessie tried to continue her education. In an article in the Capitol Journal of Salem, Oregon Jessie remembered, “that in those days there was an unwritten rule preventing a ninth grade in the schools. The pioneers felt if a person wanted more education than eighth grade he should get out and earn it.  We had a teacher in Dayton who gave us ‘bootleg’ education.  We would secretly agree some of us, to come to the school at night and he would give us ninth grade algebra and he sneaked in Literature too.”

At the age of 20 Jessie began a long career as a schoolteacher.  Her beloved sister Amy soon joined her in the profession.  Jessie and Amy Martin never married.  The article in the Capital Journal quotes Amy as saying, “Jessie had plenty of chances to get married too” and Jessie as saying, “I decided to take my chances alone.  After you marry old Harry takes place sometimes.”  I have no idea who old Harry is or what he might do, but it’s a direct quote.  Old Harry is mentioned several times in the article; if anyone knows who he is please contact me.

Amy and Jessie

Jessie continued to teach until1931 when she refused to go along with the new methods being used in the public schools.  A new movement called progressivism championed by John Dewey and Francis Parker was sweeping across the country.  This was all just too new-fangled for Jessie.  Never one to remain quiet she refused to go along.  There was a hearing where principals and supervisors testified that Jessie was “too old -fashioned.” She was dismissed for insubordination and never worked again.  Amy continued to teach and supported her sister.

1954 found the aging sisters impoverished and hoping to find a place in the Methodist home. I quote from the Capital Journal article of 1954, “The Misses Jessie Martin, 80 and Amy Martin, 72 taught for some 80 years.  Today they live in a four room tidy house on Lee Street, but they must move soon, because the teaching pension Miss Amy receives, $84.48, is not enough to cover living expenses for both. Other sources of income for the Misses Martin are precarious. The sisters sometimes rent a small house at $40, but taxes and upkeep prevent a steady income. The Misses Martin have decided to enter the Methodist home and to acquire the necessary fee they hope to sell both the houses. Wistfully Miss Amy spoke: ‘I always hoped we could have a place of our own to spend the rest of our lives, but I imagine it will be better this way.  I won’t break as many bones and Jessie won’t have to work so hard.”

Amy and Jessie

Amy and Jessie did move to the Methodist home where Jessie died in 1959.  In her last letter to my mother-in-law Amy speaks of Jessie’s memorial service, “She deserved all that was said of her and more.  In fact she had the best disposition of any member of the Martin family.  She was loyal and generous and kind.  There were so many things she would have liked to do but lack of money was the drawback for all of us.’ ”

Amy lived on for another 23 years and died at the age of 101.  Their story ended so sadly, certainly not what William Martin envisioned when he christened a schooner named after his oldest daughter one bright day on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Photo  of the Schooner Jessie Martin courtesy of   Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University”