Unpacking History One Discovery at a Time
About 2 years ago I sent an email to The Greene County Historical Society in New York. It was a simple email asking for information they might have on William Nelson Garrett. They sent me a note regretfully saying they didn’t have much. Then this past summer I got an email from the great granddaughter of William Nelson. She wanted to know what I was hoping to learn and of course, to know how we were related. She is descended from one son of William’s and I from another. It turns out she had gone to the Greene County Historical Society and my letter was in a “Garrett” file. How cool!
Her email came a few weeks before I was headed back to Pennsylvania for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pennsylvania’s (GRIP) annual conference. I had planned to research my mother’s Pennsylvania roots but with the arrival of this email I quickly tossed my plans upside down. Instead of going to Riggle’s Gap I headed up to Windsor, New York for a visit with this Garrett connection. She had photos and stories I had never seen, including the knowledge of William Nelson’s conversion to Seventh Day Adventist. We put our heads together and tried to fill in some blanks. She took me on a tour of the old parts of her home and to the Windsor Village cemetery so I could pay my respects.
Walking through the small village of Windsor, Broome County, New York I began to get a sense of the way my great-grandfather had lived. Main street is lined by brick-fronted shops and the grass-covered commons is still a gathering point for village activities.
I had hoped to learn more about why William Nelson moved from Green County, near Albany, to the western edge of New York but I can only guess it was to gain land and build a homestead. He moved to Windsor in 1853 and purchased 66 acres. He built a log cabin and at 24 he married Fannie Minerva Moore, the neighbor’s daughter.
The Garrett log cabin, valued at $50 in 1855, is the center of the current home where my grandmother’s cousin still lives a few miles from Windsor Village.
I have photos now of Garrett relatives and have concrete proof of his conversion to Seventh Day Adventist. I learned of William Nelson’s conversion (I’m always fascinated by the religious history of our family) from my cousin and it was confirmed by his obituary:
William N. Garrett died at his home in Windsor Friday morning, April 1 aged 85 years. He leaves a wife, Fannie M and four sons, Myron S, Charles S, Frank a, and Jesse R. Garrett, and one daughter, Hattie L Bennett. The funeral was held at the home on Easter Sunday. Pastor Frank Draper of New York City representing the “L.B.S.A” officiated. A quartet from the local branch sang appropriate selections. Mr. Garrett lived on the farm where he died for 60 years. He was a public spirited man and was instrumental in getting the bill passed for cutting weeds along all public highways. Mr. Garrett had been a consecrated Christian and earnest Bible student for many years. He will be missed by his many friends and neighbors.(1)
I know what his house looks like and I have more color to fill in the story of his life. Visiting a town or village and walking the cemetery, the small streets, and seeing the homes of my ancestors always creates a vivid picture of why they did what they did and went where they went.
I still keep in touch with my grandmother’s cousin, and through her I have connected to another ‘cousin’ with a shared great-great from two generations before William Nelson. She lives here in St. Paul, where I have come to visit Sanford relatives for the Christmas holidays. I will meet her tomorrow and the cycle of connecting will continue.
(1) Binghamton Daily Republic, Roll #99 6 Apr 1915 page 3
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