Sunday, March 2, 2014

Joshua A Cornell 1849 - 1943

When you're big into Genealogy, you find yourself becoming very familiar with people in your family tree who died long before you were born. So although Joshua Cornell is actually my great-great grandfather I tend to refer to him as "Grandpa Josh"  because its just simplier.  My very tolerant family apparently has gotten used to this because they know exactly who I'm referring to. I've heard some Grandpa Josh stories over the years which I kept in  mind while looking at his genealogy.

Joshua A Cornell was born on June 30, 1849 to Jacob G Cornell and Mary McCord.  He joined at home two brothers, Aaron and Willett, and a sister Sarah. His brother Ezra was born three years later.  There's little known about his mother, Mary McCord, and speculation that she was Jacob's second wife. If so, Joshua was her first child. But thats a whole other story to tell some other time. Joshua's brother Aaron had a blacksmith shop, which was in the exact spot the new Croton Dam was built, which is why many refer to the dam as the Cornell Dam. The family farm and where Joshua was born is now under water, one of many homes flooded when the dam was completed.

Joshua was taught the trade of a wheelwright at first, according to his obituary. However he also is listed in the census throughout the years as a carriage maker, a blacksmith, and a carpenter with his own shop. Joshua married Alice Chase on Oct 22 1871.  Their son Ira J Cornell was born in May of 1874, Wright Benjamin Cornell in November of 1878. It was much later, in November of 1889, Lester Albert Cornell was born.

 Here they  are all together:  Lester being the younger one on the left, behind him is Wright, with Wright's wife Lizzie (Elizabeth Titus) besides Lester. Standing in the back is Grandpa Josh with his wife Alice on the right. Ira is in the right front with his wife Allie (Almira Fisher) just slightly behind and to the left of him. Date of photo unknown, but Wright married in 1903 and Ira died in 1905, which gives us a small window when this photo could have been taken. Lester would marry much later  - in 1923, to Florence Purdy.

One of the stories I've heard told about Grandpa Josh  was that he had a temper and sometimes he & Alice fought. Matter of fact, (they would say) he lived out in the garage for a time. The garage they referred to was once Grandpa Josh's shop. he bought it in 1885 and then began to build their house next to it. I thought this a funny story growing up.

Wright, Joshua and Ira
 Then, as I began to research the family tree an odd thing happened. I found Alice & Lester in the census, but not Grandpa Josh. He was alive, so why wasn't he there? Family reminded me he lived in the garage for a while... apparently not for a night or two, but for a year or more.  Sure enough, looking around the neighborhood in the census, there Grandpa Josh was, living by himself in the Garage.  It wasn't the last Census I found him listed living alone either. no one seems to know how long he lived out there, or if it was an on and off type of thing.

Grandpa Josh, along with his sons Lester & Wright were well known for their carpentry skills. Some of the buildings for Trinity-Pawling, a private boys school in Pawling, NY, were built by the three of them.  The family also hunted. In 1926, at 77, Joshua was mentioned in the paper for getting some squirrel and a pheasant.

Alice Chase Cornell died in July of 1939, after being ill for a few weeks.  Grandpa Josh however lived a long time. When he turned 91 his family threw him a big get-together to celebrate. Joshua was the last of his siblings to pass away, in 1943 at the age of 94.


Ira J. Cornell - May 30, 1874 - March 29, 1905

My Great Grandfather Lester Cornell had two brothers, Ira and Wright Cornell. Ira was the oldest, and he died young of tuberculosis, or so I’d been told, so he's been a bit of a mystery...

Then one day I was gifted with some old pictures. You know the kind, grey or sepia pictures of people on cardboard backing, usually they are faded and worn around the edges. Often there’s something somewhat familiar about their faces, but you’re not sure what.

The photographer is someone you never heard of in a place you’re not sure your relative ever went to; and to top it off, when you turn them over there’s no name on the back. Downright frustrating to be given a ton of great granny’s pictures… only to find out she was the only one who know who was in them.

This time it was different – I turned them over and there in spidery pencil was written names – some with question marks, but names all the same. I promptly started asking questions of anyone from that branch of the family and in that way I discovered many things from those few pictures.

Great Grandpa Lester was much younger than his brother - 15 years younger – and since Ira didn't have kids and died young not much was known about him. Other family members seem to recall his wife lived in CT in her later years after he died, but they’d lost track of her over the years. So, armed with a couple of old pictures and some sketchy data, I began the hunt.

First – the census. In 1880, I find Ira is 6, living with his brother Wright with his parents Joshua and Alice in Yorktown, Westchester Co, NY. In 1900, I find his family all in Yorktown, but Ira requires some more searching. There are 9 Ira Cornells in the census for that year, He is the one living with his wife Almira with her parents Henry and Jennie in Manhattan.


This sort of goes with a family comment that he did “some photography down near the city” at one time. In 1910, I find lots of Iras, But not the one I’m looking for. In CT I find an Almira Cornell, the correct age, widowed, living with her mother – So by this I believe Ira has died. I find his mother, father and Lester living in Yorktown again. Alice is listed as having borne 3 children, 2 of which are living and this backs up my hunch that Ira has died. in 1920, I find no Ira that fits this family... so I move on to other records.

In some cemetery listings for Westchester county I do some more searches for the missing Ira. I find a possible one in Mahopac and reach out to a cousin who might know if this is the correct one. Jeanette and her mom Lois (Lester’s daughter) going for a drive one weekend and find the stone I mentioned in Mahopac. They find a full death date and he is buried among the Fisher family – His Wife, Almira’s family. There’s a marking for the Masons on his stone, which adds a bit of information too.

Online at the Mahopac Library I find copies of the Putnam county paper dating way back… and give it a few looks to see what I can find on Ira Cornell. Sure enough,. A few days after his death I find a column describing his death and where he’ll be buried. He was 30 years old and died of consumption.

Knowing Almira's full name and the fact Ira married by 1900, I began to look for marriage records. Nothing is found in Westchester county where Ira was born. However now knowing he was in NY city in 1900, I look at the NY city indexes and find success. Ira J Cornell married Almira Fisher in Manhattan, NY on February 21, 1899. I wonder if any of the family traveled to the city that day to celebrate with them.

So by looking in several places and some help from other family members I've been able to piece together a bit of information to fill in the mystery of Great-Grand-Uncle Ira.  Ira didn't have any children, so my search doesn't go much further with his story. But finally we know a little more of one of Lester's brothers.