52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 9 ‘Where there’s a will …’


Well known as one of the first settlers in Massena, St. Lawrence county, New York, Thomas Lantry died at the age of 98 in August 1887. 1 He left an estate of some $35 000.00, equivalent to approximately $890 000.00 today.

The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, October 13, 1887.

For the thirty years previous to Thomas’ death, he had been living with his son, Joshua Lantry and family. Thomas’ wife, Jane, died before 1880 and the rest of their children, all married, lived in their own homes. In 1872, at age 78, Thomas Lantry asked his nephew, Barnaby Lantry, to help draw up his will. Thomas Lantry left $500 dollars to each of his children and the bulk of the estate went to third oldest son, Joshua Lantry.

In May 1887, Joshua Lantry died suddenly of heart disease. 2 This meant his widow, Catherine and their children, would now inherit what Thomas Lantry had originally left to Joshua. Immediately, the other children of Thomas Lantry began to contest the will. They contended that the will was not properly executed, was not signed in the presence of the witnesses and declared the signature on the will to not be that of their father, Thomas. They also argued that the will was not properly published and that their father did not actually declare this his last will and testament. The contention to the will garnered a lot of attention from the county where almost all knew Thomas Lantry.

The Sun, Fort Covington, New York, April 5, 1888.

Several newspaper articles were written, most favoring Joshua Lantry’s widow as the legal heir. Their sympathies lay with the family who had taken care of Thomas Lantry and his wife for over thirty years. Several hearings were held and the case finally argued in Norwood, St. Lawrence county in April 1888. The judge declared that the will was a valid document and that the principal property would go to the widow and heirs of Joshua Lantry.

Thomas Lantry was a well-respected and prominent citizen of St. Lawrence county, New York. Previously a shoemaker in Ireland, he had left there in his early 30s with his wife and two small sons. He arrived in St. Lawrence county around 1823. He managed to buy land in Massena and farmed there all his life. He became a wealthy man through hard work and determination. The Lantry family was well-regarded by all who knew them. It is hard to imagine that Thomas would have been happy with the contention surrounding his will.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 9 prompt: Where there’s a will …



  1. “Death of Thos. Lantry,” The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, St. Lawrence, New York, 13 October 1887, p. 5, col. 5. 
  2. No heading, The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, St. Lawrence, New York, 26 May 1887, p. 1, col. 6., Vol. XXII, No. 21. 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 8 ‘Heirloom’

The Thomas family bible.

The family bible is one of the most precious heirlooms a genealogist can have. A few years ago, my father was visiting his brother in England, and the subject of the family bible came up. My uncle was kind enough to pass the bible on to me, knowing of my passion for genealogy.  It is a beautiful, large, and heavy bible, about 14 inches x 10 inches and almost 5 inches wide.


Our biggest hurdle was getting the bible from England to the U.S. where I lived. I did not want to send it via the mail.  Fortunately, my father was staying at a guest house with a couple from the U.S. who had brought their daughter over to York to begin university. These strangers very kindly offered to bring the bible back with them to the U.S. and send it on to me.

The bible is titled, ‘Brown’s Self Interpreting Bible’ and the cover is embossed leather with metal on each edge and beautifully engraved metal clasps (one of which is missing). The Self Interpreting Bible was Rev. John Brown’s (1722-1787) most successful work. It contained the scriptures with marginal references and explanations for the ordinary person.

The inside of the bible contains beautiful pictures of various bible scenes, in vivid color.

Scriptural scenes inside the bible.

In the middle of the bible are the pages that every genealogist hopes to see. Those that contain handwritten names and dates of birth, marriage and death. I can see from the handwriting that most of the names and dates were written by one person at one time, not at the time of each event. And the names are of only one family, the James Thomas and Margaret Bruce family. They are my great grandparents, who lived in County Durham, England. 1

James Thomas was born in 18622 in Medomsley, Durham, and Margaret Bruce was born in 18663 in Sherburn, Durham. They married in 1888 at Bethany Church 4, a Christian Lay Church in Sunderland, Durham.

Thomas family bible with the names of my great grandparents, James and Margaret Thomas.

James and Margaret Thomas went on to have six children with only two surviving infancy. Those names are written in their bible. How sad it must have been to write down the death dates of their precious little ones.

Dates of birth and death for James and Margaret Thomas’ six children.

The Thomas family bible is a valuable resource but it is more than that. To me it is the precious feeling of being able to hold in my hands something that I know my great grandparents once treasured.



  1. Thomas Family Bible, The Holy Bible (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Adam & Co. Lmt), “Births, Deaths”; privately held by Sue McNelly, [address for private use,] Arizona, 2010. 
  2. England, birth certificate for James Thomas, born 29 January 1862; registered March quarter 1862, Durham District 10a/265, Lanchester Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  3. England, birth certificate for Margaret Bruce, born 4 May 1866; registered June quarter 1866, Durham District 10a/365, Saint Nicholas Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 
  4. England, marriage certificate for James Thomas and Margaret Bruce, married 3 March 1888, registered March quarter 1888, Sunderland District 10a/715, Bethany Church, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 7 ‘Valentine’

The moment I saw photographs of my husband’s great grandparents I wished that I had been fortunate enough to have met them. They seemed to radiate happiness and love for each other, for their family and for life. They are the perfect choice for a post on Valentine’s Day.

Charles & Ella


Charles Stephen Zimmerman and Ella Lucille McMahon were married on 17 May 1919 in Stockton, San Joachin, California. 1 Charles was 22 years old and Ella, 19. Charles was the youngest son of German immigrants, Louis Wendelin Zimmerman and Philippina (Bena) Tischbein, and Ella was the oldest daughter of James Thomas McMahon and Adaline Slater.

Ella and Charles on their wedding trip.

They began married life with a move to Phoenix, Arizona where they rented a small home at North Sixth Avenue. 2

I’m quite sure the house below is not the one they rented but perhaps one they went to see as tourists.

Ella and Charles, tourists.

Their first child, a daughter they named Helen Rose, was born on 26 April 1920 in Phoenix. 3 The family didn’t stay too long, finding the Phoenix summers too hot. By 1921, they had returned to California and made their home in Modesto 4.

They would welcome three more children to their family: Robert in December 1921, Patricia in April 1924, and Jon in August 1934.

Charles, Ella and son, Jon.

Their sweet story plays out in the photographs they left behind. I am sure there was loss and tragedy, hard times and difficulties, tears of sadness as well as joy, but when I asked my husband what he remembers of them, he replied, “They were happy”.


This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 7 prompt: Valentine.



  1. “California, County Marriages, 1850-1952,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8ZF-457 : 13 February 2018), Charles S. Zimmerman and Ella McMahon, 17 May 1919; citing San Joaquin, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 1,841,865. 
  2. 1920 U.S. Census, Maricopa County, California, population schedule, Phoenix, ED 58, sheet 3A (penned), dwelling 50, family 68 , Charles Zimmerman household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 49. 
  3. Arizona Birth Records, 1880-1935, Helen Rose Zimmerman, 26 April 1920; image,  Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 February 2018). 
  4. 1930 U.S. Census, Stanislaus County, California, population schedule, Modesto, ED 10, sheet 9A (penned), 62 (stamped), dwelling 149, family 148, Charles S. Zimmerman household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 223. 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 6 ‘Favorite Name’

Silence and her granddaughter, Experience.

We probably all have them in our family trees. Those Puritan virtue names popular in the 17th century. Mercy, Thankful, Liberty, Faith, Prudence, and in my case …. Silence, and her granddaughter, Experience.

Silence Potter was born in Exeter, Washington county, Rhode Island on 22 January 1753 1. Her parents were Joseph Potter and Catherine Spencer. You might expect that her siblings would also have interesting names, yet that’s not the case at all. Her four sisters were named Hannah, Mary, Martha and Sarah.

Silence was a name somewhat popular in Puritan England, and one that crossed the Atlantic to be seen in America 2. It was thought to have its origins in the admonition of Saint Paul, “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection.” (1 Tim. Ii. II). In fact, devoted Puritans found a source of continual supply of inspiration in the Epistle to the Romans:

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed” 3

Justice, Faith, Grace, Hope, Glory, Patience and … Experience. All names springing from the pages of the bible onto the town birth registers of Rhode Island in the 1700s.

Silence Potter was married in 1774, at the age of 21, to a man named Elijah Case.4 Elijah Case was a founding member of the Penfield Baptist Church in Monroe county, New York. He was also the first minister there. Silence and Elijah had ten children: Mary, Elijah, Catherine, Alexander, Joseph, Abel, Solomon, Elisha, Benjamin and Reaboan. All common names for the time period, with perhaps the exception of Reaboan. Although Reaboan appears to be a Baptist name, I wasn’t able to confirm its origins or meaning.

Gravestone for Silence Case, Oakwood Cemetery, Penfield, Monroe county, New York.

Experience Case
Elijah, the oldest son of Silence and Elijah, was born on 11 September 1776. 5 Elijah Case (1776) married Elizabeth Crandall and had several children. One they named, Experience. The other children again had fairly every day names like Solomon, Elizabeth, Daniel and Hannah.

Experience’s name would turn out to be a fitting one, and perhaps a foreshadowing of her life to come. A life that would be full of difficult challenges and experiences. Experience married in 1826 and settled in Michigan Territory with her husband, Lucius Hubbard Fuller. They moved to Warsaw, Hancock county, 6 where malaria was rampant in the swampy lands surrounding them. There was also great tension in the community between the Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and non-Mormon settlers. Lucius was a Mormon but there is no indication that Experience joined the church. In April 1845, Lucius died, likely of complications from malaria. 7 Experience was left a widow with four children still at home.  Experience and two of her children were also sick when Lucius died. One year later, in 1846, Experience died. 8 She was only 39 years old. The last few years of Experience’s life can be learned about  through the pages of her probate record which I wrote about in a previous post.

Silence and Experience, grandmother and granddaughter. Their unusual names help us to see them with more distinction at a time when women’s legal and social status was almost completely overshadowed by the men in their lives.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 6 prompt: Favorite Name.


  1. “Rhode Island, Vital Records, 1636-1899”, database with images; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018), entry for Silence Potter birth, 22 January 1753. 
  2. Charles W. Bardsley, Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. (London, Chatto and Windus, 1880), 145; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  3. King James bible, Romans, Chapter 5: v. 1-5. 
  4. “Rhode Island, Vital Records, 1636-1899”, database with images; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018), marriage of Elijah Case and Silence Potter, 1774. 
  5. “Rhode Island, Birth Index, 1636-1930”, database with images; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018), entry for birth of Elijah Case, 11 September 1776. 
  6. 1840 U.S. census, Hancock County, Illinois, no township, p. 27 (written), entry for L.H. Fuller; digital image by subscription, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 7 February 2018); citing National Archives microfilm M704, roll 60. 
  7. Hancock County, Illinois, Probate Records, ca. 1831-1942, Boxes 15-16, 1840s-1850s, Case 16, letters of administration of estate of Lucius Hubbard Fuller, 3 August 1844; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  8. Hancock County, Illinois, Probate Records, ca. 1831-1942, Boxes 15-16, 1840s-1850s, Case 16, letters of administration of estate of Experience Fuller, 8 December 1846; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 February 2018). 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 3 ‘Longevity’

Longevity (or in my coal mining ancestors, the lack thereof)

Coal mining was not an occupation that promoted longevity in those who worked from before daybreak to after dark, six out of seven days a week, month after month and year after year. Most miners began work down the mines as young as age 8. Back breaking, dangerous and physically exhausting labor, accidents and disease, most often meant that many miners never reached old age. While David Bellis, a Welsh coal miner, and my 2nd great grandfather, lived to the age of 81 and his son, John Bellas (the name is spelled both Bellis and Bellas in the records), my great grandfather, lived to age 78, the majority of their sons and extended family died fairly young. All of them spent their entire working lives in the mine.

Name Year of Birth Year of Death Age at death
John Bellis (3rd great grandfather) 1793 1840 47
John Bellis (2nd great granduncle) 1814 1871 57
Hugh Bellis (2nd great granduncle) 1825 1860 35
David Bellis (2nd great grandfather) 1822 1903 81
John Bellas (Great grandfather) 1859 1938 78
John W. Bellis (1st Cousin 3R) 1860 1883 23
Thomas Bellas (Great granduncle) 1861 1901 40
William Bellas (Great granduncle) 1866 1915 49
Tom Bellas (granduncle) 1888 1933 45

John William Bellis died while working in Etherley Colliery near Escomb, County Durham, England in 1883. John was an Incline Man which was someone who “attended to work on an incline plane”[1]. The Mine Inspectors Report described the accident as “died from the effects of a sprain received on 22nd January last while lifting a tub on the way.”[2] Sadly, John was only 23 years old.

Read any of the historical data on mining deaths in England in the 1800s and you will come across lives lost far too young. The risk of accidental death or disease was high but for many families of Northeast England it was the only occupation open to them.

children miners
Child miners. Photograph in public domain.
“The little trapper of eight years of ages lies quiet in bed…It is now between two and three in the morning, and his mother shakes him, and desires him to rise, and tells him that his father has an hour ago gone off to the pit. He turns on his side, rubs his eyes, and gets up, and comes to the blazing fire, and puts on his clothes. His coffee, such as it is, stands by the side of the fire, and bread is laid down for him…He then fills his tin bottle with coffee, and takes a lump of bread, and sets out for the pit, into which he goes down in the cage, and walking along the horseway for upwards of a mile…He knows his place of work. It is inside one of the doors called trap-doors, for the purpose of forcing the stream of air, which passes in its long, many miled course from the down shaft to the up-shaft of the pit; but which door must be opened whenever men or boys, with or without carriages, may wish to pass through. He seats himself in a little hole, about the size of a common fire-place, and with the string in his hand: and all his work is to pull that string when he has to open the door, and when man or boy has passed through, then to allow the door to shut itself…He may not stir above a dozen steps with safety from his charge, lest he should be found neglecting his duty, and suffer for the same. He sits solitary by himself, and has no one to talk to him; …. For he himself has no light. His hours, except at such times, are passed in total darkness. For the first week of his service in the pit his father had allowed him candles to light one after another, but the expense of three halfpence a-day was so extravagant expenditure out of ten pence, the boy’s daily wages, that his father, of course, withdrew that allowance the second week, all except one or two candles in the morning, and the week after the allowance was altogether taken away; and now, except a neighbour kinder than his father now and then drop him a candle, as he passes, the boy has no light of his own.”
Dr. Mitchell’s report of the Collieries of South Wales, Children in Mines and Collieries, 1839, p38-39. “The History of Mining in Durham & Northumberland”, Newcastle University, (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/outreach/mining/children.php : accessed 17 January 2018).
[1] “Mining Occupations”, Durham Mining Museum, (http://www.dmm.org.uk/educate/mineocc.htm#inclineman : accessed 16 January 2018).
[2] “In Memoriam”, Durham Mining Museum, (http://www.dmm.org.uk/individ0/i06704.htm : accessed 16 January 2018).



















52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 2 ‘Favorite Photo’

Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for us called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. You can learn more about it here and sign up if you think you would be interested. It’s a great way to share some of our data and as I looked through my photographs for the Week 2 prompt “Favorite Photo”, I not only enjoyed a quick refresher seeing some of my favorite photos but it also jogged my mind as to a few things I had meant to do with those photos and hadn’t yet. Thanks, Amy!

It’s not easy picking a favorite photograph. There are so many great ones that I like for different reasons. I finally settled on one that has some of my favorite people in it. It not only has my grandfather in it but also my favorite uncle, who we nicknamed ‘Uncle Snoozy’ as he would come from England to visit us in South Africa and would fall asleep each afternoon lying in the warm South African sun.

JamesThomas1894_photo family all men

This photograph was taken late 1950s/early 1960s and shows several generations of the Thomas/Bellas/Stables family. It was taken either in Shiney Row, County Durham, England or Edmonton, London where the Stables family lived. The original is in my father’s possession and I have a digital copy. I’m not sure what the occasion was but there is another photograph, obviously taken at the same time, with all the wives and children. It looks to be a happy occasion whatever it was.

In the front is my grandfather, James Thomas, who was born in 1894 and whom I unfortunately never got to meet. He served during the First World War with the Tyneside Scottish, attached to the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers and spent his 21st birthday on the front. My father clearly remembers that his father forever hated the sound of bagpipes after the war as it reminded him of going ‘up and over’ the trenches to meet the enemy.

Behind my grandfather is “Uncle Snoozy”, Leslie Bruce Thomas. He was the oldest of my father’s siblings and I knew him well from visits to England and him visiting us in South Africa. He was a lovely man, a talented musician and always kind and loving. He passed away in 2013 but I can hear his voice with its’ Geordie accent calling me ‘Pet’.

Behind “Uncle Snoozy” is his son, also Leslie Thomas. Behind him is my great aunt’s husband, William ‘Bill’ Stables. Next comes another Leslie (a popular name in our family back then), this is Leslie Bellas. He fits into the Bellas side of the family as it was Elizabeth Bellas who married my grandfather, James Thomas. And finally, right at the back of the row, is Thomas Stables. He was the son of William ‘Bill’ Stables and Margaret Bellas (Elizabeth Bellas’ sister). Thomas Stables died in 1962 of renal failure, he was only 21. A favorite multi-generational photograph and one which makes me happy when I see it.


Guest Post – Full Circle: A Transplant Michigander’s Surprise Homecoming

by Kirsten McNelly Bibbes

Orphan.  I was an “orphan” in Lansing, Michigan for many years.  Don’t get me wrong—my parents were alive and pretty perky—but lived in Arizona.  Not knowing a soul, I moved to Lansing in 1996.  I started my legal career based in Lansing, practicing in Ingham, Clinton, and the surrounding counties.  I was lucky enough to appear in many of the area’s old courthouses.

(Ingham County Courthouse, Mason, Michigan)

Making Roots.  In time, I worked my way to partner with a historic downtown Lansing law firm, Foster Swift, founded in 1902.  From time to time, I visited old area cemeteries.  Twice each day on my way to work, I passed the beautiful Mount Hope Cemetery, opened in 1874.  Michigan was home.  I always felt that I had roots there.  I had no idea just how deep those roots ran, taking hold long before I arrived.

mt hope
(Mt. Hope Cemetery, Lansing, Michigan)

Finding Roots.  Until genealogist Sue McNelly got in touch with me, I had no idea that I had a family connection not just to Lansing, but to the area’s legal profession as far back as the mid-1800s.  Turns out, “Lansing’s oldest resident,” Daniel Case, is my fourth great grand-uncle. He and some of his family members are buried right in the Mt. Hope cemetery!


A “Pioneer Resident” of Lansing, Daniel L. Case.  Sue had come across (what do I call him, “Uncle Case?”) Daniel Case’s obituary while doing genealogy research.  I was fascinated to learn that my ancestor not only was one of Lansing’s pioneer residents, but he was a lawyer who practiced law in the very same counties as me.  For three years, he was Mason, Michigan’s prosecuting attorney.

McNelly discovered that along with practicing law, by 1847 Daniel Case worked as a farmer and owned one of two general stores in “Lower Town,” located where Grand River and Center Street intersect today.

Daniel Case newspaper
(April 28, 1955 State Journal article detailing the area’s first settlers)

Case’s Legacy.  My great-great-great-great uncle was an anti-slavery activist, and even, for a time, worked as trustee and resident manager at the Michigan School for the Blind (which stands today).  I try to imagine where he may have delivered the passionate anti-slavery address documented in his obituary, and wish there were a surviving transcript:

Mr. Case had always been an active Democrat until the bitter and bloody contest in Kansas between pro slavery and free state parties.  The conduct of President pierce toward the slave power forced Mr. Case to sever his relations with his party, and in 1856 he fully identified himself with the [anti-slavery] Republican party and canvassed the state for Fremont and Dayton.  During that exciting campaign, Mr. Case delivered an address to the democracy of Ingham County, giving the reason for his political change, which was considered one of its most powerful and convincing political arguments of the time.

I can’t express how much I would like to sit down and talk with Daniel L. Case.  Putting aside modern conveniences, I can’t imagine his life was all that different than mine.  I am proud to be descended from this man, and now better understand why I have always felt at home in Lansing.

(12/8/1898 Ingham County Democrat)

Kirsten McNelly Bibbes is a litigation attorney who practiced in Lansing, Michigan from 1997-2011.  She now practices in San Francisco and can be reached at kmcnelly@gmail.com.