Saturday, February 21, 2015

Finding Charlotte

I have been searching for Charlotte for years. I have this irrational emotional attachment to her that some of us genealogists get about our ancestors. I am very protective of her. She died at age 33, a young wife and mother of two daughters. I guess what always bothered me was that she was alone. Her husband and daughters moved away after her death and she was alone in a cemetery without any family nearby.

Charlotte Hill Learned is my great, great grandmother. And one of my brick walls. She died in 1862 and appeared on only one census record with her husband and two very young daughters.

When I first started researching Charlotte some 10 plus years ago all I had was her name, Charlotte Hill, the information about her husband and children and nothing else. That was information that my mother had collected. Other than the 1860 Federal census I had no idea how my mother came up with the rest.

There was a note that Charlotte was from Delhi. I'm thinking "India?" Turns out that was a typo. It should have said Delphi. So now I'm thinking "Greece?"  Turns out that is just one of the many colorful names that New York gives to its towns along with Cicero, Cuba and Painted Post.

I discovered that Delphi Falls is a town in Onondaga County, New York. Associated with Delphi, and just to complete my international tour, is a place called Pompey. At this point I know that in the 1860s one was a village inside the other but I'm still not really sure which was which. Today they are both very small rural places.

I had thought that I could stroll in, use my sharp genealogical skills, and easily connect Charlotte to her family. The genealogy Gods laughed in my face. I found a Hill family in the 1850 US Federal census for Pompey, New York. There was a Charlotte of the right age in the family. The intrigue of unusual names continued with the discovery of a father named Orange, a brother named Erasmus and a later discovery of grandfather named Ensign. What a cast of characters! There must be a story there. The only thing was that I couldn't prove that this was my Charlotte.

I put the research away for many years, frustrated that I couldn't make any headway.

Then one year I was contacted by a 2nd cousin, Barb, who was also descended not only from Charlotte but from the same daughter, Clara Learned. Barb mentioned that she had the diary of William Chandler Learned, Charlotte's husband. I was thrilled to make the connection and to learn of the diary! But Barb had never read the diary so she couldn't tell me much about it. And with it being all the way on the west coast and me here in Boston, there was no chance I could get a peek at it.

Spring forward to August 2014 when Barb notifies me that she and her husband are coming to Massachusetts. She also revealed that she was going to loan me the diary so that I could read it and share its contents with the family. I was over the moon!

We had a very small reunion of Learned descendants which was wonderful in itself. Then I got a peek at the diary. The diary, unfortunately, started in 1866, four years after Charlotte's death.  Luckily, it was not a typical diary of the time with just two line entries describing the weather and what was planted. William Chandler Learned was a teacher and then a Baptist minister. His diary was long form text and he described his feelings and why he made certain decisions in life. A truly extraordinary document that covers the years from 1866 to 1908.

The diary does provide enough information to tie Charlotte Hill to her family in Delphi, New York but I'll save that story for another day. What still gnawed at me was the location of Charlotte's burial. Did she die and was buried in Alden, Erie County, New York, the location of the 1860 census entry? It seemed like the most logical place to me. Unfortunately, without being able to go in person I could not confirm this and there were many cemeteries in the small town of Alden.

The answer came in the form of diary entry. William, now in his 70s and living in Chicago, made a "final tour" of the old places in New York where he used to live. One of the places he visited was Charlotte's grave in Alden.

Here's the diary entry:

Charlotte Hill Learned's Grave as described in William Chandler Learned's diary
Click to enlarge
The entry (dated July 1901) reads:

"                                                            I 
visited Charlotte's grave. I was thankful
that friends had cared for the grave in
straightening up the headstone and
keeping the grass in good order. I was 
pleased to see that one who was Anne
Milne to me was buried by her side.
They were lovely in their lives and in
their death not-separated"
This confirmed for me that Charlotte was buried in the town of Alden, New York! But where? I had the added benefit of learning that she was buried next to her good friend, Anne Milne.

There was no entry for Charlotte or Anne on Nor were there mentions of their graves in the limited transcriptions for gravestones of cemeteries in Alden found on other genealogy websites.

I turned to local sources and found the Alden Historical Society website. I sent an email to the society asking if they had information about Charlotte's gravesite location. Societies often have unpublished transcriptions of their local cemeteries and this is what I was hoping for. I did not expect a reply quickly, knowing that societies have limited hours and are often short staffed.

Imagine my surprise when Alden Town Historian, Karen Muchow replied within a half hour. Regrettably, she had nothing on Charlotte in her records. I decided to try again. I researched Anne Milne, learning that she was the daughter of a Baptist clergyman. She was born in 1841, married a man named Orin Munger in 1862 and then died in 1864. I asked Karen to search for Anne since their graves were side by side.

It took a bit of work on Karen's part but she found them! Charlotte was buried under her maiden name of Hill rather than Learned. Karen was able to identify for me that both Charlotte and Anne are buried in Alden Evergreen Cemetery.

I finally felt at peace. Those of you who are genealogists will understand how I feel. The rest of you will just think I'm crazy. Knowing Charlotte's burial place has connected her to our family. Some day I hope to be able to make the trip to Alden to visit her grave so that she will know that she has not been forgotten.


  1. And this is another example of why I adore diaries! What a great story and what a great find Marian!

  2. Love love LOVE this story and I can totally get how you feel Marian.

  3. Genealogy Happy Dance time for sure! Congrats!

  4. I loved this story. Having just broken down my own 2nd-great-grandmother brick wall, I identify with you! Also, I have Erie County ancestors and know how difficult it is to research New York resources prior to the 1881 vital records registration. I'm very happy for you that you found her.

  5. Marian I'm genealogy happy dancing with you. And I understand the value of diaries. One of my grandparents lines were avid diary writers, and our family has them going back to my great great grandma and grandpa, who emigrated to Australia. Very fortunate indeed. And congrats again on smashing your brick wall.

  6. Wonderful and congrats! My research and these kind of stories make me wonder if I should plan to have a real burial site/stone for myself (some day).

  7. Yay! So glad that you found her and got the bonus of reading that diary. What a great treat!

  8. Bless the Town Historians :) Not all of them are proficient or helpful, but the majority are greatly under-appreciated.

  9. Marian,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  10. I'm so glad you found her! I'm from Alden originally, and though it is currently under much snow, I'll be back in May and can get a photo of the tombstone for you if you need it. Let me know!

    1. Amanda, that would be great! My great, great grandfather started a seminary in Alden when they lived there. The town historian told me the building is still there on Broadway though it's used for something else. Apparently the cemetery and the building are quite close to each other. Would love to see both if you could figure out which building it is!