Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wedding Wednesday: Lulie Armstrong's Marriage Improves the Fortunes of the California Armstrongs

In my last post, Arthur B. Armstrong:  The California Armstrongs, I wrote about Arthur Armstrong leaving all his Maine Armstrong roots and uprooting his family to remove to California.

I am sure he made the move because he thought it would lead to a better future for himself and his family. He was right.  I think we can be fairly certain that his families life took a better financial path due to the move to California, but maybe not for the reasons he could have anticipated.

Arthur B. Armstrong's profession while living in Maine was to work as a Sparmaker which is a type of ship's carpenter.  When he moved to Oakland, CA he worked at first as a carpenter and then returned to his profession as a sparmaker.  

One can't expect a big improvement in your fortune by doing the same exact thing on a different coast.

However, the family fortune took a decided turn for the better and it came through the marriage of their daughter, Lulie W. Armstrong.

Lulie was just a teenager when they completed their move to Oakland, California.  She graduated from Oakland High School in 1878.

On January 11, 1881, she married Abel Willard (A.W.) Porter.  A.W. Porter was born November 14, 1858 in Shirley, Massachusetts.   You have to wonder how they met and if their shared experience and possibly New England accents might have made them feel at home with each other.

At 22, he was a partner/owner of Porter Brothers, a prominent fresh produce dealer.   

Porter Brothers was formed about 1879 and only been open a few years, but was already a growing and successful business.

Over the 52 years that A.W. Porter and Lulie were married, they lived well.  They had at least one live in servant and took frequent trips abroad including multiple trips to Europe and Hawaii.  I can see from old passports that they traveled for months in Europe including:  England, France, Germany, Austria and Russia.  

A.W. Porter and Lulie lived most of their married life at 1816 San Jose Avenue, Alameda, California. Which is located about a 1/2 mile from San Francisco Bay.   Their house is still there.  It was originally built in 1906.  Today it is a a multi-family home (three units), but the outside is probably very similar to how it might have looked when the Porter family lived there.

Lulie Armstrong's cousins in New England were leading much harder lives.  Most worked as laborers and in and around the port of Portland, Maine.  

It was obvious that Lulie benefited in a much improved lifestyle by her marriage to A.W. Porter.

And it benefited the entire family.

Toward the end of Arthur B Armstrong's career he worked for Porter Brothers.  Which I am sure gave him a better more secure living than working as a ships sparmaker.  When Arthur passed away, Ellen Armstrong lived with he daughter and son-in-law at 1816 San Jose Avenue.

Lulie's brothers, Arthur Armstrong Jr and Ulmer Armstrong joined the Porter Brothers firm, too.  By 
1893, Arthur Jr. was working as an agent for the Porter Brothers in Los Angeles.  After Ulmer had worked at Porter Brothers and learned the business he worked in sales at California Fruit Co.  In 1900, Arthur Jr started his own fruit company called Armstrong Fruit.  He and Ulmer worked in the fruit and agriculture business for substantial parts of their careers.  You could make a case that Lulie's marriage to A.W. Porter opened many doors for her brothers and exposed them businesses that would help lead them to a lot more success than they could have reasonably expected back in Maine.

A.W. Porter and Lulie Armstrong had 5 children:

  • Eleanor Porter b. 1892  d. in infancy
  • Herbert Porter b. 1894 d. in infancy
  • Ernest D. Porter b. Oct 29, 1881 d. Sept 22, 1943
  • Abel W. Porter b. Jul 14, 1883  d. Aug 3, 1950 
  • Edith W. Porter b. 1890  d. Apr 24, 1917

Here is Ellen L. Simonton Armstrong's Obituary as it appeared on January 9, 1913 in the San Francisco Chronicle.  I think it is funny that that the head line is "Well Known Woman is Called by Death".  How well known was she when they got her name wrong in the obituary?  They call her Helen, when her name was Ellen.

Here is Lulie Armstrong Porter's services notice from Mar 29, 1933 as it appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle.

Next Post:  The Porter Brothers: David H. Porter and Abel W. Porter

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Arthur B Armstrong: The California Armstrongs

My 2nd great grand uncle, Arthur B. Armstrong was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on May 8, 1827.  He was the son of John Armstrong and Betsey Woodbury Armstrong.  Arthur B. Armstrong was one of 6 children his siblings:  Ebenezer, Lucy, John, Israel, & George.

At the age of 26. Arthur married Ellen L. Simonton.  They were married on Sept 15, 1853  in Portland, Maine.

While living in Cape Elizabeth, they had 4 children (One died before adulthood):

  • Arthur B. Armstrong Jr. b. Mar 1, 1856 d. Sept 2, 1943
  • Lucy (Lulie) Armstrong b. Feb 1859  d. Mar 26, 1933
  • Ulmer Armstrong  b. Aug 13, 1864  d. May 28, 1941

Arthur's profession in Cape Elizabeth was as a Sparmaker.  Sparmakers work on the wooden ships as carpenters.  Usually the job is associated with building and repairing ship masts which are also knows as spars.  Cape Elizabeth is right on the coast of Maine and close to Portland which was a busy seaport.

The civil war brought a dramatic reduction to the numbers of ships being built in Maine and decreased the commercial shipping.  Scratching out a living in Maine was never easy, but had become even more difficult during this time.

We may never know the reason, but Arthur B. Armstrong decided to uproot his family and move to California.  One has to think that some specific story or idea of a job opportunity must have spurred him to action.  We do know that the San Francisco area was growing rapidly.  By 1870, San Francisco had become the 10th largest city in America.  He must have believed that California was the place he oughta be, so he loaded up the family and moved to Oakland.  Hmm....that sounded better in my head than when I write it.  Just assume it is a joke relating to the Beverly Hillbillies TV show.

Between 1873 and 1876, Arthur and family removed from Maine and arrived in Oakland, California.

In 1873, Arthur Armstrong is listed as a sparmaker in the Portland, Maine City directory
In 1876, Arthur B. Armstrong is listed as a Carpenter for C.P.R.R Co. in the Oakland City (California) directory.
By 1878,  he is listed as a sparmaker and living at 716 Market Street

I haven't found much about his life living in Oakland, California.  We can expect that his life and that of his family was much improved over what it might have been for if he had stayed in Maine.

Arthur B. Armstrong died at the age of 66 on Nov 10, 1893.

Arthur's parents and siblings lived and died in Maine and New England.   I can not find any evidence that Arthur ever returned to visit his family living in Maine of they visited California.

In a very real way, he branched off from his Maine roots and didn't look back.

Next Post:   Lulie Armstrong's Marriage Improves the Fortunes of the California Armstrongs

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New AncestryDNA Updated Review

****10/20/13 Ancestry DNA Updated Review*******

I originally posted my review of AncestryDNA on 11/20/12. In this post I outlined the Good, Bad and Frustrating of AncestryDNA.   You may want to read that post, too.  Since some of the reasons that investing in the AncestryDNA test still may not be worth it for you are still true today.

In October 2013, AncestryDNA just launched their "new" AncestryDNA results. They have made some updates and refinements.  As with the original AncestryDNA results, it is exciting, but it is still not perfect.

In my original results, it showed that I had 40% of my ancestry originating (DNA wise) from Scandinavia.  Which was directly at odds with all my research which showed I had a large number of my ancestors from Scotland and England.  

I was interested seeing if the new refinements were any different.

The updated information was dramatically different from my previous results.  It showed the following:

  • <1 Scandinavia
  • 2% Finnish/Northern Russia
  • 2% Italy/Greece
  • 6% Great Britain
  • 21% Ireland
  • 26% European West (Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg)
  • 43% European East (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, etc.)
There results seem to be more inline with what my research has uncovered with the exception of the Ireland and Italy/Greece ancestry.  The only Irish ancestry I know that I have is from my 3rd Great Grandparents - William and Margaret Armstrong, who came here from Ireland in the early 1800's.  Interestingly, this is a separate Armstrong family than I have written extensively about.  It isn't clear to me if this Armstrong family (William and Margaret) may have come to Ireland from Scotland.  So there may not be ANY Irish ancestry from this part of the family, too.

The unknown in this analysis is that my grandfather on my father's side is unknown.  Does this indicate that he was Irish with some tiny amount of Italian/Greek ancestry?  Or are the results just inaccurate?  Maybe further refinements in the AncestryDNA results over time will provide better information.

A five months ago, I did receive a DNA match for a 2nd cousin.  It is a person that I wasn't aware of before.  He/She appear to be descended from my great aunt.  Which was exciting to see.  

What made it less exciting was that when I tried to reach out to them, I am yet to hear back from them.  Which continues to confound me that people invest in the AncestryDNA test and aren't more interested in connecting with their distant cousins.

Still waiting for the "surprising" DNA results which are going to open some previously unopened doors for the genealogical research.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Military Monday: John B Armstrong, Civil War Veteran or Not?

I am unsure any of ancestors fought in the Civil War.  Which seems strange, since many of my ancestors resided in the United States during the war.  I have uncovered evidence that two of my relatives took part in the Civil War Battle of Portland, Maine which I blogged about in a previous post.  I don't believe either of those relatives were active military.

However, I have reason to believe that my 2nd great grandfather, John B. Armstrong, was a veteran of the Civil War.  While researching some cemetery records, I found the plot record for the Armstrong gravesite in S. Portland, Maine.  The plot record indicated that John B. Armstrong was a Civil War veteran.  This notation was probably useful when they put out flags for memorial day and/or veteran's day.

The only problem is that when I have conducted research on John B. Armstrong's participation serving in the Union Army in the Civil War, I wasn't coming up with any records which show in what capacity he served in the war.

Recently, I found a record on  of Maine, Veterans Cemetery Records, 1676-1918
for John H. Armstrong with the same  date of death and in the same Armstrong plot as my ancestor.  This looked promising and it was understandable that the person who created the record may have made an error on this cemetery record between John B and John H Armstrong.

What was exciting was the record showed that John H. Armstrong had served in the Maine 7th infantry regiment, company G.  Enlistment date was listed as August 21, 1861.  He had entered as a private and was discharged as a sergeant.

So there you go.  John B. Armstrong, Civil War veteran.

The thing is that I didn't stop there.  I could have been satisfied to know that my ancestor was a veteran, but I went on to research the regiment to see if what I could find about their history of battles.  Also, I looked for more Civil War records that might show my ancestors role and involvement in the war.

Maine has such a wealth of genealogical records online, but they haven't made the Civil War records searchable, but I did find the records on  The military records are under the Maine, State Archive Collections, 1718-1957.  Once you are under the archive collection, don't look at the individual Maine county records.  The civil war records AREN'T there.  They are under the first option "Maine".  Click on Maine and you will be able to select Military Records-Civil War.  From there you can browse records by the different Maine regiments and companies.

You have to review them one by one to find the records you are looking for.  Luckily, I knew the regiment and company and date of that should make it easy to find the records I was looking for.  

Which caused a problem.  I found the Enlistment Rolls, which includes the new recruits.  There is no listing for a John B Armstrong from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, but there is a John H. Armstrong from Portland, Maine.  Other records for John H. Armstrong for this regiment and company indicated he was born in ancestor was born in 1822.  The discrepancies were adding up.   I suspect that there really was a John H. Armstrong and my ancestor was getting confused with his military records.

The last indicator that lead me to this conclusion was the US, Civil War Draft Registration, 1863-1865 on  The draft record indicated John B Armstrong of Cape Elizabeth, Maine eligible to be drafted in June 1863.  Seems very unlikely that an active military personnel would be listed as eligible to be drafted.

Did my ancestor, John B. Armstrong, serve in the Civil War?  I still don't know, but I feel confident it wasn't with the Maine 7th Infantry.

My search continues......

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday Tip - Finding William and Mary Griffith Jones of Marcy, NY

In my last post, Catherine Jones Purcell, the Orphan from a Big Family, I uncovered that many in Catherine's family believed her to be an orphan, but I was able to uncover that she had in fact, been one of five children born to William Jones and Mary Griffith Jones of Marcy, NY.

As I mentioned in my last post, is an invaluable source for information from old newspapers from all over NY state.  It has been an invaluable source for my research.  I can't count how many obituaries and newspaper clippings I have found which have furthered my research.  The searching of the newspaper database can be tricky.  A lot of it is trial and error.

Here is how I typically do a search and then conduct variations from this search until I narrow the number of responses down to a manageable number to review.  If you do a search for William Jones for example, you will receive thousands of responses.  Far too many to look through.   I suggest you narrow your search.  My wife's relatives primarily lived in and around Utica, NY.  So I conduct a boolean search.  Where I outline the city  and the person's first name adding w/2 (which means where the first name appears within 2 words of the following word) and then the last name.  So it would look like the picture below.

It is on a search like this that I uncovered Catherine Jones Purcell's obituary from 1940.

I have been searching for her parents for about 1 year on the website.  I tried multiple different approaches, but with no success.  I don't remember the exact search that I conducted the other day, but one of the results returned a death notice for Mary Jones.  I didn't think much of it, but as I reviewed it, I saw that this was THE Mary Griffith Jones I had been looking for!

I can't explain what I did differently on this search, but there it was.  Mary Jones giving her death date as August 14, 1885.  The death notice mentions all her children (Catherine is referred to as Kittie)....there was no no question that this is THE Mary Jones I had been looking for.  

I was still unable to find William Jones' obituary after a year of trying.  However, with the date of Mary Griffith Jones' death, I decided to check one of my favorite website to see if I could find where she is buried.  I searched  I found her listed as being buried in Salem Cemetery of Marcy, NY.  It did not have a photo of her tombstone, but had the next best thing..a transcription of the gravestone.  Which reads "wife of William Jones age 60 yrs 2 months 19 dys".  

I know what you are is very likely that William Jones is buried in the plot next to her.  So I looked at all the William Jones buried in Salem Cemetery.  There are three William Joneses buried there, but only one had a transcription which read "Age 51 yrs 9 dys".  Which would have made him born around the date I had in my research.  Also, his date of death was June 12, 1872.  I knew he had died sometime between 1870 and 1880 (based on when he appeared in the US Census records).  Everything matched up.

Now we return to the idea of Catherine Jones and her time in an orphanage.  Let's look at the information we have.  Catherine was the youngest of the children.  She was born Jan 1867.  Which would have made her only 5 years old when her father died.  The 1870 US Census lists William Jones' occupation as a farmer.  It is unclear if he was farmer working someone else's land or his own land.  

At that time in history, the estate would have provided the land or property to the male heirs (or more likely the oldest male).  I haven't found a Will.  William Jones' oldest son was John M Jones.  I am not sure if I have an accurate record of him in the 1870 US Census (he did not live with his parents and siblings in 1870).  John married Charlotte Cavanaugh in 1874.  His obituary states that he worked in the hotel business when living in Utica, but according to the 1880 US Census he is identified as a farmer.  Was this his father's farm?  Possibly, but It is unclear.  

The 1880 US Census shows Mary Jones living with three of her children:  William, Grace and Catherine "Kitty".  They are now living in Utica and Mary's occupation is "at home", but each one of the children are said to be "Working at a Cotton Mill".  This included Catherine who was only 13 at the time.  Presumably they were all working to support their mother and themselves.

In 1885, when Mary died the kids would have had to fend for themselves.  Each of Catherine's siblings were older (20's or older by that time), so they could care for themselves.  Catherine was 18 at the time of her mother's death and unmarried.  Did she spend time in an orphanage at this age?  Seems unlikely.  

It seems more likely that Mary's son William either got married or moved away, which put the financial burden heavily on the family and this would have pushed Mary to have to put Catherine and/or Grace into an orphanage.  If so, it is unclear how or why the other siblings such as John M Jones, didn't take her in.  It would just be pure speculation on why the other family members couldn't or wouldn't take her in rather than her spending time at an orphanage.

In 1887, Catherine Jones married John F Purcell.  

None of their kids ever spent time in an orphanage.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sentimental Sunday - Catherine Jones Purcell, The Orphan from a Big Family

The curse of genealogy research is a common name.  No question about it.  The more common the name the more difficult it is to research your family.

Smith, Jones, Johnson.  Nightmare.

My wife's great grandmother, Catherine Jones, was my big challenge.  She married John F Purcell in Utica, NY June 23, 1887.  Her parents were unknown to my wife and her mother.  In finding Catherine's obituary (3/9/1940), I learned that her parents were named: William Jones and Mary Griffith Jones.  Catherine was born in Marcy, NY and I knew her family was originally from Wales.

Knowing that her parents were from Wales actually sounded like a great clue.  I was unfamiliar with that area of Oneida County, NY and assumed that being Welsh was fairly rare.  To my surprised, I learned that Marcy might as well be called little Cardiff (the capital of Wales).  There appeared to be dozens of Jones and Griffith families in Marcy and the surrounding area.

Family lore indicated that Catherine Jones Purcell has been orphaned at a young age and lived in an orphanage.  Which would mean it would be nearly impossible to determine which of the many Jones families belonged to her.

Fortunately, family lore was at least partially incorrect.  My first lead came from seeing newspaper notices of some of Catherine's children visiting
a William Jones in Whitesboro and another of her children had a wedding shower thrown by a cousin Maude Bullard.  I started looking for other Jones family members.

If you have relatives who lived in New York, Fulton is an invaluable website.  It is a collection of scanned newspapers from all over NY State.  Searching the website can get tricky, but with an infinite amount of patience you can find almost anything that exists in the newspapers they have archived.  I started conducting some searches on "Catherine Purcell" and "Jones".  Which lead to me uncovering Catherine's 4 siblings:  John M Jones, William J Jones, Eleanor "Nellie" Jones and Grace Frances Jones.

John M Jones - John was born in Wales (where we haven't uncovered, yet) on 2/26/1847 and died on 1/19/1915.   He married Charlotte "Lottie" Cavanaugh on 3/8/1874

John and Lottie had at least 8 children:

  • Ada Jones 
  • Charlotte "Lottie" Jones 
  • William A. Jones 
  • John Jay Jones 
  • Eleanor Jones
  • Mayme Jones
  • Harriett Jones
  • Frank Jones

William J Jones - William was born in Marcy in 1854.  I haven't uncovered much about him except that he did live in Syracuse and possibly Whitesboro for a time.

Eleanor "Nellie" Jones - Nellie was born in Marcy, May 1858.  She married John Richard Thomas on Nov 25, 1874.

Nellie and John had at least 3 children:

  • William Hudson Thomas
  • Mable Jane Thomas
  • Kathyrn H Thomas  

Graces Frances Jones - Grace was born in Marcy in Jan 1862.  She died in Deaborn, MI Sept 3, 1937. She married Frank M Bullard in 1885.

Grace and Frank had at least 4 children:

  • Frank E Bullard
  • Harold M Bullard
  • Lila M Bullard
  • Maude Bullard
Catherine had 4 siblings and over a dozen cousins, so how did she end up in an orphanage?  Or did she?  I haven't found any evidence that Catherine lived in an orphanage, but all family stories have some basis in fact.  Today, we tend to think of an orphanage as a place where young children go when their parents have passed away and are wards of a religious or government institution.  What I have learned in my research is that orphanages sometimes had another purpose.  When parents we unable to financial provide for children, children would be sent to the orphanage.  Sometimes for years.  The fact that she spent time at an orphanage has survived in family lore tends to indicate that it left a negative mark on her.

But what lead to the situation where she would have had to go to the orphanage?  That is the subject of my next post:  Finding William and Mary Griffith Jones of Marcy, NY

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Talented Tuesday - Professions of the Armstrong's of Cape Elizabeth, Maine

My 3rd Great Grandparents, John Armstrong and Betsey Woodbury Dyer Armstrong, together had at least 8 children:  Simon, Mary, Eben, Lucy, John B., Israel, Arthur and George.

I am interested in the professions of my ancestors and relatives.  It is fascinating to see how occupations change over time and this is what I was able to uncovered about the Armstrong sons professions.

Much of this information is extracted from the City of Portland, City Directory from 1871.

Simon Armstrong (1812-1839) - Simon was a mariner.  The only evidence of this is that he died while traveling by ship in Havana, Cuba.  If he made his living on the sea, it wasn't for long, since he died far too young at the early age of 27.

Eben Armstrong - (1818-1884) - Eben was a cooper.  The profession of cooper is not one you hear about often anymore, but it was an important profession in its day.   A cooper is the traditional occupation of making barrels out of wooden staves.  These barrels would be used to contain dry and liquid goods for storage and sale.  It should not be underestimated the skill required to make these barrels.  Coopers are still used to make barrels for specialty products such as aging wine, but wooden barrel containers have been replaced by pre-made plastic, wood and metal containers.

John B Armstrong - (1822-1900) - John B had a few professions including as a farmer, but in 1871 he was a Ferryman.  Portland, Maine and Cape Elizabeth (Now South Portland) are separated by Portland Harbor.  The most efficient way to go from Portland and Cape Elizabeth was to take the ferry.  John B. Armstrong ran the ferry business bringing people and goods between the two locations.  Eventually, their was a bridge built between the two locations which effectively ended the ferry business.

Israel Armstrong (1824-1892) - Israel is described as a mariner.  I didn't see any evidence of what type of business he conducted on the sea in 1871.  However, I did see that he was involved running the Portland-to-Cape Elizabeth Ferry in 1866.  Making a living from the sea was very popular in coastal Maine.

Arthur B Armstrong (1827-1893) - Arthur was a sparmaker.  A sparmaker is someone who works on building masts for ships.  This was during the time when most shipping was done by sailing ships and making and repairing "spars" or masts would have been a very desirable profession.  As more shipping moved to steam ships, this would have become less in demand.

George Armstrong (1832-1884) - I don't find any records of George in any profession.

Many of these professions would be considered obsolete today.  It is interesting to consider that some of the professions that we take for granted will be obsolete in 100 years.