Nostalgia

I recently remarked to Son how it seemed to me that as I age my family history research becomes more like nostalgia, a walk down Memory Lane, and increasingly frequent but random reminiscences. Eschewing the expected age jokes, Son promptly provided me with several columns in the Maine Farmer newspaper written between October 1876 and May 1877 by one “D.C.” and entitled “Random Thoughts and Recollections.” D.C. wrote more than ten columns in the slightly purple style of the times about his memories of people, places, and events, a gold mine of information about places and people in the 1820s and 1830s, Augusta and Hallowell, Maine in particular.

But who was D.C.? Never content with only great stories, I had to know more about the man who wrote them. There are many individuals in my family tree with “D” and “C” initials; maybe one of them would be this author.

Writing in late 1876, in his introduction, D.C. mentioned being in “an invalid chair,” and that he had been about four years old when Napoleon died (1821). I combed my family tree database for those men who would have been born about 1817, i.e., the right age to “reminisce” about Napoleon, ship and stagecoach travel, and early train travel.

Writing in late 1876, in his introduction, D.C. mentioned being in “an invalid chair”…

Only one fit the description: Daniel Cony (1817-1888), a really distant half-cousin, one I knew next-to-nothing about because I’d never felt the need to know more.[1] How often do we miss great stories with that attitude?!

His stories of traveling by ship along with his seeming familiarity with sailing suggested that his occupation might have been “seaworthy.” I checked early census records, and in the 1850 census he listed his occupation as “ship master.” Eureka!

A very well-researched and sourced online family tree gave me confirmation that I had the right man as author as well as more insight into Daniel. (Once again, I’m the last to know!) Looking at census records, newspaper articles, and generally anything I could find anywhere online, I discovered that not only was Daniel a ship master/captain, but he also owned the bark/brig Oriole, which was built in Augusta, his hometown, and later the bark Ocean Bird. On Tuesday, 20 August 1850, he advertised in the New York Evening Post as commander of the “new, very fast sailing ship Masonic.”

By 1851 he was in California with his wife Mary, whom he had married in 1842, and was sailing the world before holding an office at the San Francisco Customs House.

Reading his “Recollections,” I was caught up by D.C.’s story of his travel in 1830 from Boston to Portland by ship, on to Augusta by stagecoach, and his thrill at sitting beside the driver, Jabe Sawin,[2] a well-known driver and storyteller. The trip took eleven hours! (I’ll still complain about the three or more hours it takes me to drive to Boston, thank you!)

He apparently made a solid connection with D.C., who attended the funeral of Rhoda Cornish Sawin, Jabe’s wife, in San Francisco in 1863. D.C.’s long career in sailing is evident in his knowledgeable remarks about shipping, packet lines, and captains from Augusta and Hallowell.

The name of Captain Elisha Springer seemed familiar to me, so I checked my database and found Edward Springer. Cross-checking online probate records, I found that Edward named Elisha as his son. Edward Springer was the second husband of my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read’s second wife, Lydia Wheelwright. Edward and George were both from Bristol County, Massachusetts; served in Bristol County companies in the Revolutionary War; and lived only a few miles apart in Augusta. Edward is buried a few feet away from George in the Reed-Cony Cemetery, a short distance from Our Old House and across the road from George’s house. Elisha rests in a different cemetery, a few miles from his father.

Daniel continued to write at least ten columns of his recollections, so I have more to read. I doubt that my “nostalgia” will be as entertaining as Daniel Cony’s newspaper memoir, but I don’t think we should judge the value of our own reminiscences; that is for later generations to decide.

Notes

[1] What little I knew (or wanted to know at the time) came from Mary Lovering Holman’s work, Ancestors and Descendants of John Coney of Boston, England and Boston, Massachusetts (Concord, N.H.: Rumford Press, 1928).

[2] Jabez Sawin (1808-1870).

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.

13 thoughts on “Nostalgia

  1. Ditto!!! – bet if I checked I’d find some of your distant ancestors in my tree as well.

    1. Hi! Yes, they are available online. We found them on one of the subscription newspaper archive sites.

  2. Ah Yes, for me
    reminiscenses” mean Trains to stay in the context of travel. How I loved to travel by train, Now it is a special excursion on a few miles of track or into the Adirondacks somewhere. But then we could travel across Country. It’s true:) What a good time you’ve had with this research Jan!

  3. Jan, This was great! I so very much enjoyed meeting “D.C.,” reading his words, and your process of learning who he was. Good stuff!

  4. Very interesting column. Am I missing something though? Did you have a reason for suspecting that you were related to the mysterious DC? It seems a big chance to have taken on the basis of two letters.

    1. Jim, I’d have to call it an “educated shot in the dark.” Because DC talked about Augusta, ME (where my family has been for generations and where I live), and because the initials “D.C.” are prominent in my family tree, I just had to find out who he was. Serendipity then took over!

  5. Great work tracing down the elusive D.C.! It’s too bad that our descendants will be unlikely to find such nuggets as these. Who knows what (if anything) will survive from our digital age in 150 years? I am lucky enough to have a whole collection of similar newspaper articles written by the only brother of my maternal grandfather’s mother. Some detailed his extended trip to Hawaii, but I don’t think he ever wrote about his trip to Japan with a team of trained ponies…a curious adventure for anyone, but especially so (I think, anyway) for a former superintendent of public instruction!

    1. Thanks Pamela! It’s not only newspapers that give us clues. From reading your posts, I’ve discovered family in Nantucket – mostly Coffins/Coffyns!

  6. How wonderful to hear your ancestor’s voice. Thanks to chronicalingamerica.loc.org more and more newspapers are being digitized. I have recently tagged along on my great great grandfather’s sea-going adventures written up in the Ellsworth American. But I was spared getting seasick.

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