"Love and affection"

Sara Theodora Ilsley, July 1896

One does not turn readily to probate matters for cozy human interest stories, so I was surprised (and delighted) to find a momentary bright spot in the will of my great-great-grandmother Emily Anne Finlay, the “relict of Francis G. Ilsley, deceased.”[1] Emily’s family background is suggested in bequests to her children Beekman (“the family Bible of the Beekman family”),[2] Francis (“two oil portraits of Dirck Lefferts and his wife”),[3] and Sara (“my tea set of silver service”), but in fact the estate was a small one, with two house lots in Newark, New Jersey as the major asset.[4]

On 28 March 1892, when Emily signed her will, her daughter[5] was ten years old. The first six provisions of the will direct specific gifts and then equal shares of the estate to the three children; one appoints Mrs. Ilsley’s brother-in-law George E. Tilford[6] an executor and trustee. The seventh provision breaks the pattern in a charming way: “I commit my daughter Sara Theodora to the care of my dear friend Sara Van Buren Brugière[7] by reason and in consideration of the love and affection existing between us and my daughter Sara Theodora, resting assured that my dear daughter could find no kinder, truer friend.”[8]

Courtesy of Ancestry.com

It’s unclear the extent to which Mrs. Brugière was a part of my great-grandmother’s life after her mother died in 1895. She lived abroad, for one thing, with her first husband (who died in Lausanne in 1899) and then her second (G. Victor Meert), whom she married in Rome in April 1904.[9] Like Emily, Sarah (or Sara) Van Buren was a native of Manhattan; her father was a leading physician in New York and her grandfather was Dr. Valentine Mott, patriarch of a family of surgeons.

Presumably Mrs. Meert was back in America shortly after her second marriage, as Sara Theodora Ilsley married Charles Fanning Ayer in Newark 22 June 1904; one of the ushers was Victor Meert of New York,[10] who was probably Victor Ernest Meert (1874-1931), perhaps originally a friend of one of Theodora’s older brothers as well as the bridegroom. (The sisters Adelaide and Sarah Van Buren married brothers Charles and Victor Meert; the younger Victor Meert was a nephew of both Mr. and Mrs. G. Victor Meert.)

Almost the last record of Emily Ilsley’s life is her arrival in New York (a “lady of means”) on board the Champagne with her daughter in October 1895.[11] Perhaps this was a last visit to the Brugières in Europe. And was it Sara Van Buren Brugière who took her ward to stay at the Misery Island Club off Beverly, during the summer of 1902? It was there that Miss Ilsley met her future husband, whose family would spend many future summers on the North Shore of Boston.


[1] Emily Anne Finlay (1848-1895) was married to the composer Francis Grenville Ilsley 1871-87.

[2] Beekman Finlay Ilsley (1873-1928) married Charlotte Christian Gilchrist in 1898. Anne Beekman was Emily’s paternal grandmother.

[3] Francis Grenville Ilsley (1878-1925) married Katherine Fiske Ferris in 1921. Dirck Lefferts (1719-1799), who married three times, was the father of Sarah (Lefferts) Beekman, Anne (Beekman) Finlay’s mother.

[4] New Jersey, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1739-1991 [database on-line].

[5] Sara Theodora Ilsley (1881-1945) married Charles Fanning Ayer in 1904. She was known as Theodora after her marriage.

[6] Julia Fisher Finlay (1862-1940) married George E. Tilford in 1879.

[7] Sarah Van Buren (1851-1917) was married to Jules E. Brugière 1880-99 and to G. Victor Meert in 1904. As Sara Van Buren Brugière she published Good-Living: A Practical Cookery-Book for Town and Country in 1908.

[8] New Jersey, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1739-1991 [see Note 4].

[9] Summer Social Register 1899, 41; New-York Tribune, 15 April 1904, 8.

[10] “Ayer-Ilsley,” The New York Times, 23 June 1904, 9.

[11] New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line].

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward