Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The search for Minnie, part III

With Minnie’s final resting place discovered, that left only a few more details of her short life to investigate.  The death date given on the tombstone in the Town of Catskill Cemetery is only given as a year- 1909.  Since the family lore suggests her death was the result of a snowball put down her back by a prankster and the resulting pneumonia, one could conclude she likely died during the winter months. 
A simple check of the New York State Vital Records index was in order, to obtain an exact date and place of her death.  The vital records index is just that, an index to the vital records registered with the State of New York from about 1882-1964, depending on the event in question  (see http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/index.php?title=New_York_Vital_Records) for more complete explanation of their use).  The registration of births, marriages and deaths began in New York State in 1882, but the new law was not widely complied with until the turn of the 20th century, so it’s not uncommon to find records that should be in the index not there prior to this time.  The law required that town clerks keep one copy of each record and submit another copy to the state for filing.  The result is, as you would imagine, a fairly incomplete set of records at both the local level and the state level.  Record-keeping is prone to all sorts of bureaucratic difficulties, including misplaced records, records that never get filed, records damaged by natural disasters, etc.  So the fact that vital records are, for the most part, very often found is nothing short of miraculous.  The index exists at several repositories around the state- the New York State Archives located in Albany, the National Archives and Records Administration branch in New York City, the Onondaga County Public Library in Syracuse, and Crandall Library in Glens Falls, among others. 
As I found myself at the Crandall Library for my regular monthly volunteer hours, I decided to consult the index located there.  While this index is not perfect (many of the microfiche sheets are so dark they are barely readable) the convenience of having it mere steps from me could not be beat.  So, I proceeded to pull out the box which contained the deaths for 1909 in alphabetical order by surname.  This presented another dilemma- which name would she be listed under- Decker or Wolfe?  I searched first for a Minnie Decker, and did not find one listed.  Next, I looked for the fiche that contained the individuals with the surname Wolfe and the fiche was missing from the set!!  I searched through the box thinking the fiche may have been misfiled, but did not find it!  Very frustrating to have the very fiche I sought missing- it was almost as if Minnie did not want me to put the mystery to bed so soon!  So now I am going to have to use the New York State Archives index the next time I’m there.
Cousin Leeann Coffin made a discovery about Minnie’s burial while tooling around the internet- seems she was originally buried elsewhere, then re-interred in the Catskill Village Cemetery.  A website that gives details of burials that were relocated from cemeteries in Gilboa, Schoharie County, from 1918-1921 (http://files.usgwarchives.net/ny/schoharie/cemeteries/schoharieres-removals.txt) gives the names of Minnie Decker and Lucina Hicks Decker as among those who were removed from a cemetery in Gilboa to what is listed as Jefferson, New York.  In 1925, the Gilboa dam and reservoir were created to help supply the City of New York with municipal water.  The village of Gilboa became the sight of a 5 mile long artificial lake, containing twenty-two billion gallons of water!  The site given in the records of the re-burial of Minnie and Lucina as Jefferson is somewhat misleading.  There is a town of Jefferson located in Schoharie County, which could easily be mistaken for their final resting place.  The Town of Catskill Cemetery is located in a part of the village of Catskill known as Jefferson Heights, so this is probably the source of the confusion.  Whoever was transcribing the records from the Gilboa reinterments probably mistook the location as simply Jefferson.   As genealogists, we constantly have to be on the alert for common errors such as these, as they can lead us down a wrong path that might take much time and effort to correct!
The “interested party” listed for both of these reinterments is given as “Lola Rivenburg”, and her relationship to both parties is given as “none”.  A 1915 census record found for Titus Decker, when he was living in the Greene County town of Coxsackie, shows him living with a wife named Lola.  By this time both Minnie and Titus’ wife Lucina had passed away.  Titus likely sought a change of scenery after the deaths of his family members, and perhaps married Lola at that time.  When he died in 1919, his wife likely decided to purchase a plot nearer to where he was living, and to move his first wife Lucina and his niece Minnie to where he was buried.  It’s not known what happened to Lola Rivenburg, but her generous act to keep the Decker family together even after their deaths is much appreciated by those of us who are searching for information about long-lost ancestors. 
The search for the details about the life of Minnie Wolfe continues.  Next up will be to find out exactly where and when she died, and maybe order a death certificate to confirm the cause of her death.  This search is a perfect example of the types of scenarios genealogists encounter every day.  It’s not enough to simply know what records to use or where to find them, it’s knowing and understanding their interpretation, limitations and relations that makes the picture of our ancestor more complete.