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I spent some time yesterday at an event that I would have never thought of going to before I started exploring our family lines a number of years back. This was the dedication at the Colonel Lindsley Burying Grounds in Lindley, NY by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) of a plaque honoring the service of an ancestor, Samuel Lindsley. I believe he is my 6th or 7th great-uncle.

Kitty Pierce Speaking at DAR Plaque Dedication

Samuel was a young soldier in the Revolution fighting for his local militia out of New Jersey. After the war a number of his family members headed into the new western frontier and settled on a very large tract in a fertile valley containing the Tioga River in what now is currently the towns of Lindley and Presho. His father was a man I have mentioned here before, Col. Eleazer Lindsley. A bit on that later.

I had no idea to expect when they invited me to attend this event as one of the Lindsley descendants. I thought it would be a group of 10 or 12 folks and there would be a few words then we would all take a look at the plaque, shoot a couple of photos and chat a bit. Done. But coming on the scene I saw signs for parking and men in Revolutionary era garb climbing out of their cars.

It turned out it was a real event.

A History of the Flags of the Revolution

There were about 60 attendees, including members of the DAR, local historians and several direct descendants of Samuel Lindsley who came from as far away as San Antonio, Texas and Columbia, South Carolina. There were also members of the Sons of the American Revolution in full period garb. One brought a part of his collection of Revolutionary era flags and gave us a lesson on the history an meaning of each. They then proceeded to raise their muskets and give a resounding salute to honor Samuel. There were several speakers including Kitty Pierce, the Lindley town historian who is a walking encyclopedia of the genealogy and history of that town.

Another speaker was Phil Cirulli, who is a direct descendant of Samuel and whose research and persistence was responsible for the event. Phil, who now resides in South Carolina, told abut his journey in getting Samuel this recognition, about the long process involved in attaining documents and certification. Our paths have crossed a number of times while doing our respective genealogy so it was great to meet and talk with Phil along with a number of other newly discovered distant relations.

I wouldn’t have been at this event if it weren’t for a painting I did a couple years back. It was from my Icons series which were my imagined images of how I thought some of my ancestors might look. There was no research or source material. Pure imagination. One was of Eleazer Lindsley, the patriarch of the Lindsley family that came to this area around 1790. The blogpost about Eleazer, a most interesting character, came to the attention of historian Kitty Pierce and soon spread to Phil and other members of the family.

I was surprised how many people mentioned the painting. But even more surprising was that upon meeting Phil, I saw a striking similarity between Phil and my imagined image of Eleazer. Similar bald head, similar nose and chin. Even the ear looked familiar. Here’s a photo  so that you can make your own determination.

Phil Cirulli and his Ancestor, Eleazer Lindsley

All in all, a most interesting event and one that further confirmed my ties to this area and this land. It was pleasure to meet these folks and send them good wishes from their newly found distant cousin.

For this Sunday music, I have fittingly chose  the song Ode to My Family from The Cranberries. Have yourself a good Sunday.

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false-news-1903I’ve been saying for while that fake news is a dangerous thing.  And it turns out that it has been killing people for over a century.

And I have the proof.

While going through some old family genealogy, I came across this story about a great-uncle of mine from three generations back.  His name was Sylvester Odell and he was a fairly well-to-do farmer in Central NY  who was about 77 years old in 1903.   Like the Britney Spears item from earlier this week, a rumor began and spread through social media that Sylvester had died. Of course, social media at that time consisted of the mail, telegraph, an occasional telephone and yelling out to your neighbor.

But even so, the rumor spread quickly.

Friends and family gathered and headed out to Sylvester’s farm where they found him alive and well.  In fact, he was doing his normal chores in his barn.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief then shared a big laugh.  A few hours after everyone in the party had left, a still surprised Sylvester sat in his chair and passed away.

He just couldn’t take the news of his own death.

Damn fake news!

The news of his actual death after the false report made all of the newspapers around the state.  Even when reporting the facts, some of the newspapers still got parts of the story wrong.  For example, the item above is from the Syracuse Telegram.  It gives the location of the story as Dresden when in fact Sylvester lived ( and died!) in Dryden. False or not, we seem to have trouble getting the story straight.

So there you have it, proof positive that fake news kills.  Be careful out there, folks.

 

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GC Myers- Icon: St. Anna of NovgorodI don’t know how to start with this newest painting from the Icon series.  When I started the series I wanted it to focus on the lives and stories of the everyday ancestors that make up my and many others’ family lines.  But there ares some folks in these lines that are definitely not everyday people.  Such is the case with this icon– she was already the subject of multiple icons before I even thought of painting her.

Her birth name was Ingegerd Olafsdotter and she was born to the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung  right around the year 1001.  She is my 32nd great-grandmother.

She received an exceptional education as a young girl of the time, studying the scriptures, literature and history as well as being instructed in the use of military arms.  In order to extend his own influence and consolidate power, Olof sent her to Kiev in 1017 to wed the Russian Great Prince Yaroslav the Wise.  There she took on the name Greek martyred saint,  Irene.

During her time as the Great Princess of Kiev, Irene acted as an ambassador of sorts in maintaining Russia’ influence in the Europe of that age.   She offered sanctuary to several outcast princes to protect them from overthrowing forces and arranged marriages for her children that placed them squarely in the middle of continental affairs.  Her three daughters became Queens of Hungary, Norway and France ( my 31st gr-grandmother, Anne of Kiev)  while her sons all took positions of power within Russia.

St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

She and Yaroslav also continued the growth of Christianity in that time, building the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev as well as one of the same name in Novgorod.  Near the end of her life, Irene established a monastery in Novgorod and, as was the custom of the time, as founder was required to operate it.  In doing she was tonsured (which involves the cutting of the hair) and took on the name Anna.  She continued in this capacity for several years until her death around the year 1050.  She is buried in St, Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod.

Holy Anna of Novgorod from Holy Annas Chapel in SwedenFor her works in spreading the beliefs of the church as well, in actually building churches, Anna was made a saint in the Eastern Orthodox church.  In fact, one of the feast days of St. Anna is next week on February 10th.

You would think it would be easier to paint this type of ancestor, especially one who is already portrayed in many real icons.  But there is such a disconnnect in time and place that with some of these distant illustrious ancestors, while I am pleased to know that I somehow have a blood  link to them, I feel less of a bond with them than  with a hardworking lumberman in the Adirondacks or a forgotten housemaid who stole from  her employer.  Or even a Scottish scoundrel and liar who remains a mystery to me.

Maybe I see more of myself in them.

Genealogy often reveals great discoveries.  In some cases, you are left wondering how a family rose so far from humble beginnings while in others you wonder what choices and factors along the way brought a descendant so far below the stature of their ancestors.

I guess it’s a great case study in the laws of probability.  Over the course of a thousand years and thirty some generations winding their way into a new country, some bad choices and bad luck will inevitably fall on some along the way.  I am sure there are literally many, many millions of descendants springing from St. Anna and some families have probably maintained power and prestige through the ages.

And others– well, you know the story.  It’s most of our stories.

 

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GC Myers- Icon: Mary TOne of the things I am trying to emphasize with this current Icon series is the fact that we are all flawed in some way, that we all have deficiencies and stumbles along the way.  Yet, uncovering these faults in my research, I find myself holding affection for many of these ancestors that dot my family tree.  Perhaps it is the simple fact that without them I would not be here or perhaps I see some of my own flaws in them.

I’m still working on that bit of psychology.

The 12″ by 12″ canvas shown here is titled Icon: Mary T.  She is my great-great grandmother.  Born Mary Anne Ryan  of Irish immigrant parents in the Utica area she married Michael Tobin, an Irishman ( I believe he was from County Kerry but the research is still up in the air on this) who came to the States around 1850, right in the midst of the Great Irish Immigration.

Michael worked on the railroads being built throughout central New York in the late 1800’s.  Following the progress of the railroads, the couple and their growing family worked their way down through the state towards Binghamton, NY where they eventually settled.  Mary Anne eventually ended up as a housekeeper in a prominent home in the area.  Michael died around 1890 although records are sketchy on this and Mary died at my great-grandmother’s home in Elmira in 1914.

All told, they had seven daughters and three sons.  Most worked in the then booming tobacco industry of that time and place.  Most of her daughters worked as tobacco strippers  and some worked as cigar rollers, as did her sons.

That’s the simple telling of the story.  Looking into the back stories provide a little more depth which can sometimes change all perceptions.

None of her sons ever married and all were had desperate problems with alcohol.  One son was listed in a newspaper report from some years later as having been arrested for public drunkenness around 40 times over the years, seven times in one year.  He was also arrested for running a still more than once during the prohibition years.  Two of her sons died in institutions where they had been placed for their alcoholism.

A Silk Spencer

A Silk Spencer

I came across a story in the local Binghamton newspapers about Mary and two of her daughters, who were also working as domestics with here in the prominent Binghamton home owned by a local attorney and nephew of the founder of Binghamton .  In 1874, the story reports that a number  of items came up missing, including a “forty dollar silk spencer,” which is a sort of short garment like the one shown here at the right.  Neighbors informed the owner of the spencer that Mary had a number of the stolen items in her possession and a search warrant was sworn out.

Detectives came to the Tobin home and made a thorough search but turned up nothing.  They then tore up the carpets which revealed a trap door that led to a small basement.  There they found many of the stolen items but no spencer.  But they did find a silk collar that had been attached to it.  Mary and her two daughters were arrested.

Mary did finally claim to be the sole thief and her daughters were released.  I have yet to find how this particular story ends and how Mary was punished but based on the futures of some of her children I can’t see it being a happy ending.

Doing this painting, I was tempted to make my Mary a bit harsher, a lit more worn.  But as I said, there’s some sort of strange ancestral affection at play even though I know she was obviously a flawed human.  She’s smaller and more delicate looking in the painting than I imagine she was in reality. But maybe that’s little payback for the information her story reveals about the future of my family.

This is a simple painting because, as I pointed out, this is a simple story at its surface.  It’s the story of many, many families.

 

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GC Myers- Icon- Peter the ScoundrelThis painting, a new 24″ by 20″ canvas, is titled Icon: Peter the Scoundrel.  This may not be my favorite painting from the Icon series that I’ve been working on as of late but this has been by far the hardest piece for me to complete.  It just kept going and going and I completely repainted the head and face at least six different times.  Each face never felt right and I could not get a handle on how I wanted to portray the person behind this painting.

Actually, I could never get a handle on this person, period.

His name was Peter Bundy, my 3rd great grandfather and he is buried in an old cemetery in Caton, just outside of Corning.  It’s a cemetery that I knew well from my childhood, having spent a lot of time with my favorite cousin in Caton.  In fact, my cousin worked in the cemetery as a teen, digging graves by hand.  I never knew at the time how many ancestors of mine were buried right there but doing research on my family lines I found that there were dozens and dozens of relatives there including  this Peter Bundy.

His grave stone says that he was born in Scotland in 1823 and served in the Civil War with the Ohio 75th Regiment.  Doing a bit of research I found a veteran’s pension record from the 1890’s that stated he had been captured and held at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp.  That same record listed him as having an aliasCharles McKinney.  My mind began to imagine that perhaps he was a Union spy.

If only it could have been that simple.

A few years passed and one day I had a message about my family line on the Ancestry site.  It was from a family who had done research on their family line and had found that my gr-grandfather Peter Bundy was also their gr-grandfather.  Except that he had a different wife and a different name– Levi McProuty.  It turns out that my Peter Bundy held that name and married  under it in the years before the Civil War.   Living in western Steuben County, they had two children, a boy and two girls, before he ostensibly left in 1861 to serve in the Union army.  A year or so later, his wife was informed somehow that he had been killed in combat.

She and her children never saw him again.

It seems that in the year that he was gone, he had shed the name of Levi McProuty,  married my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Everetts, and had a child, my 2nd gr-grandmother.  While he may not have even served in the war as Levi McProuty, he did leave for service in the Civil War as Peter Bundy.  He returned to his second wife and child.

However, for the next twenty or so years, he didn’t show up in any public records.  But his wife and child did– his wife under the name of McKinney and his daughter under her married name.  He showed up in some veterans’ pension records  and the census before dying in 1901.  His wife died in 1915.  Both were listed under the Bundy name.

I don’t know if this is clearly written so that you can follow it– I know that it is so convoluted that I have trouble keeping it straight in my head.

So, was he really Peter Bundy or Levi McProuty?  Or Charles McKinney?  Or somebody completely different?  Was he even born in Scotland?  I find myself thinking that he may not have even served in the war, that he may have stolen the identities of other soldiers.  How he ended up serving in an Ohio regiment– Ohio being several hundred miles away– is another question that comes to mind.  Was his time at Andersonville just another lie? I don’t know if anything that is considered factual about this person is indeed real except for the fact that this person, my great-great-great grandfather, lived for a time and died in Caton–that’s on his gravestone.

And that he was a scoundrel.  That is not on his stone.

I think it’s this doubt that fed the troubles I had with this painting.  I could never see a face or a facial expression that suited this person because I never had an idea of his truth.  And just when I thought I would have a sense of him, there was always a new twist with which to contend.  When I had the different faces on this figure I felt a lot of discontent and anxiety, even waking up in my sleep thinking about it.

So yesterday morning, I came into the studio and decided to just simply put him in a mask.   A grinning, mocking mask that let’s me know that I don’t really know him and I doubt that I ever will.

 

 

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GC Myers- Icon-EleazerWhen you delve back into your ancestry you often uncover surprises, some pleasantly exciting and some a bit disappointing.  In some cases, it’s a bit of both.  Such is the case of the person behind this latest painting from my current Icons series.  This piece is 24″ by 12″ on masonite and is titled Icon: Eleazer.

The person represented here is a fellow named Eleazer Lindsley.  He was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1737, a member of the family that founded much of that area.  He did well in the years before the American Revolution, owning a grist mill and several other businesses.  He was a man of status that was increased with his participation in the war.  He served as a Colonel and acted as an aide-de-camp to both General George Washington and General Lafayette.  Both were guests in his home at various time and Lafayette personally gifted and placed a signet ring on Eleazer’s hand in appreciation. It was never to come off and was buried with him when he died in 1794.

After the war, for some reason Eleazer chose to leave the comforts of his home state and set out with his extended family to settle in the newly acquired frontier territory.  After the war, the government took much of the land in what is now central and western NY and divided it into parcels that were given to those who served in the war as a form of payment for their services rendered.  Under these Land Patents, a private might receive 200 acres, moving up through the ranks to a general who might receive 2000.   When Eleazer and his family arrived in this area they collectively held 6000 acres.

They settled just south of what is now Corning, NY, occupying a fertile river valley.  Today, much of the area probably still looks relatively unchanged from that time with most of the land still in fields and forests. This area is now the town of Lindley— they dropped the “s” from the name in the 1840’s for some reason.  Eleazer became the first state assemblyman from the area.  He was also active in a plan to secede from NY and from a new state consisting of the area that is now central and western NY.  When he died in 1794, this plan died as well, although it has periodically been thrown out there by upstaters over the years.

There’s a lot more to tell about Eleazer, much to be proud of,especially for someone like me who grew up near the area and never knew of my connection with the founders.  But there was also one dark fact that taints the whole story.

You see, when Eleazer arrived in their new home their party consisted of about 40 members, most of them my ancestors.  But among the group were also seven slaves.  The family story, much of which is contained in family papers and documents held now at the University of  Michigan, claim that the slaves were treated as family members, one being called Uncle Pap, and that they were eventually emancipated in the very early 1800’s.  A story written in the late 1800’s says that many of the slaves settled and raised families in the area.

Now, part of me wants to believe that part of the story or to write it off as simply being an accepted thing at the time–after all, Washington, Jefferson and so many other Founding Fathers had slaves.  But the fact remains that Eleazer owned slaves and it bothers me that he somehow justified that in his mind, especially given that he so heartily participated in a war of independence.

When painting this piece, I found it hard to not make him a bit harsher in his gaze.  Though there is no evidence of mistreatment,  he holds a pair of shackles in his hands as a symbol of slavery.

When you do genealogy you often find yourself hoping for and attributing high ideals to your ancestors.  You want to see them in the very best light and tend to set aside negatives.  But as you dig more and more, you find that they are simply the same flawed humans that we encounter every day, possessing good and bad qualities. I often find myself wondering if I would personally like these ancestors.  But, like him or not, Eleazer is part of my family tree. But I do like this painting, if only for the narrative behind it.  I think the dichotomy of light and dark elements in the story are exactly what I hope for in this series.

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GC Myers Icon-Gilbert 2016This is the next step in the Icon series of paintings that I talked about a few days ago.  It’s an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I call Gilbert, going with the French pronunciation–  more jill-bear than gill-bert.  There’s a reason for that.

I had mentioned using this Icon series showing plain folks leading simple and uncelebrated lives in the pose and style of religious icon paintings.  But because these are personal pieces for me (by that I mean that these paintings are being done for me alone at this point) I decide to try to channel the spirit  of an ancestor into these pieces.  Kind of like the spirit portraits that famed folk portraitist William Matthew Prior did in the  19th century, where he would  paint a portrait of a dead person’s supposed spirit which of course didn’t look anything like their actual physical form.

I’m not claiming to be painting spirits here.  I don’t have that ability or the proper amount of belief to even attempt that.  But from doing genealogy I have come across figures that stand out for me, people that sometimes make me proud and sometimes make me not so proud.  Both have an attraction for me because as I stated  in the post about Frank the Icon,  I believe we are all capable of being both gods and monsters and every family has its fair share of both.  I thought it would be interesting to do  a take on those folks, good and bad, in the iconic form.

Gilbert is based on my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, a renowned lumberman of the early Adirondacks.  I have never seen a picture of him nor do I know much of him on a personal level.  He died nearly 25 years before I was born and was born in 1855.  But using old newspaper accounts and historic records I have been able to piece together a life that was based on life in the forests of the Adirondacks.  He went out his own at age 17 and immediately had a contract and a crew of workers to bring in a large number of logs in the burgeoning logging business of the late 19th century.

This was a time when the work was all by hand and the transport was all by horse sleds or by river.  The accounts of some of the river drives are pretty amazing.  Itw as time when being a cowboy or a logger were the most exciting jobs in the land. I read an account from the Atlantic magazine of that time that detailed a day in one of his camps.  Fascinating stuff.

He was  well known and did well in the Adirondack lumber world, at one point employing over 350 men and owning more than 50 teams of horses.  Born of French-Canadian descent, he brought many French-Canadian loggers and their families into this country.  That’s where the jill-bear comes from.  His nickname was Jib.

I wrote last year of going to North Lake in the Adirondacks where several of his logging camps had been located and standing on a dam that he had first built there in the 1890’s.  It was great to be in that space and air, not so unchanged as of yet from his time.  The sheer quietness of the place and the light of the sky off the lake made me think of how he must have felt in his early days, axe in hand and a huge task before him.  I think he was probably a happy man in that moment.

There’s more I could tell but it’s probably not that interesting to anyone outside my family.  And even many of them have eyes that glaze over when I do speak of it.  I will spare you that but his is how I choose to see my great-grandfather.

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