Thursday, August 28, 2014

52 Ancestors: #30 Rosa Henn Strauss (May 3, 1836 – August 31, 1908) – Adjudged Insane

This is my latest post for the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge initiated by Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small blog. For more information about the challenge and links to the other blogs participating in the challenge, please click on the badge in the right margin.

In researching other members the Henn family in this first generation to live in the United States, other than John, I found the most information on his sister Generosa, who became Rosa after the family moved to the United States. Unlike John, who had a good and prosperous life; Rosa had a rough life, experiencing repeated tragedy. This one may be difficult to read, folks.

Rosa was born Generosa Henn in Doerlesburg, Baden, part of the German Confederation on May 3, 1836, to Franz Joseph (later Francis) and Katherina Phillipina [Blank] Henn. She was their third daughter and fourth child. her brothers and sisters were Genofera Blank (later, also known as Genevieve [Henn] Scheer; 1827-1916); Serena Mary Dick (1828-1896); Dorothe (later Dorothea or Dora) Snyder (1830-1896);  Andreas (later Andrew) Henn (1832-1911); Edmund Henn (1838-1961); Josephat (later John) Henn; Franz (later Frank) J. Henn (1843-1928); and Josepha (later Josephine) Schueurmann, (1845-1877). They were all born in Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1853 (see Franz & Phillipina’s story for the immigration story) when Generosa was 17 years old.

Climbing My Family Tree: Horatio Nelson White, architect, for whom Rosa Henn worked
Horatio Nelson White, architect, for whom Rosa Henn worked.
By 1855, the family had settled in on a farm in West Monroe, Oswego County, New York (Generosa was listed as Russena in the 1855 NY Census). But by the 1860 US Census, Rosa Henn had moved from her family home and was a domestic [servant] in the household of the Horatio White family in Syracuse NY. Mr. White was a successful architect, who designed the Hall of Languages, the first building of Syracuse University, several courthouses and churches, and many other monumental structures; he had a wife and four children 12 to one year old in the household. Rosa was likely a live-in servant.

Within a year or so, Rosa had married Henry Strauss. He was listed as a peddler in the 1860 census, which shows him living with (or at least there on the day of the census)  the family of Bernhardt Hamburg in Albany NY. I don’t know whether she met him during her service in the White household, or whether she perhaps knew him earlier, as he, too, was born in Baden, in the Germanic Confederation in approximately 1838 (although on one later census he was listed as from Prussia). 

Their first son, Henry, Jr., was born on June 11, 1862 in Syracuse NY. Their only daughter, Polly, was born in or about 1863 (in the 1870 Census, she was 7 years old). I don’t know whether Polly was her real name or whether it was a nickname for Mary, as it often is.  In December 1864, their second son George Valentine was born.

In the 1870 Census, the family is listed under the name Stross, living in the 5th Ward, Syracuse NY. Henry is a laborer at the railroad shop and Rosa is keeping house while Henry, Jr., and Polly attend school.  Henry & Rosa do not own any real property, and Henry only claims $100 worth of personal property.

In the next year, the family dealt with the sadness of a baby born who only lived just over a week. Charles was born April 11, 1871 and died August 19, 1871. Two years later, on May 16 1873, Rosa and Henry’s fourth son, John Henry, was born.

In the 1875 New York State Census, taken on June 2, 1875, the family is listed under the name “Strous”, living in Syracuse’s 5th Ward. Henry worked as a machinist for the New York Central Railroad. Listed as living with the family were their sons Henry (13), Valentine (11), and John (2). I don’t know where Polly is. I have not yet found any record of her other than the 1870 census in which she is 7 years old. She may have died in the intervening five years, and if so, that would have been another tragedy for Rosa and the family. (I find it difficult to believe that she has married as she would only be 12 in 1875, and I don’t think the family has the money to send her away for schooling.)

Rosa and Henry had two more sons: George H., born on November 7, 1876, and Frank J. Born in February 1879.

Rosa and Henry’s family is found in the 1880 Census under the name “Stroch”. In this census Henry is shown to have been born in New York (& his parents are listed as from Prussia), but the rest of the family has the right first names and approximate ages so I think it’s the right family, and Rosa and her parents are shown as being born in Baden as appropriate. Rosa and Henry are both listed as age 42; Henry is a laborer. Henry, Jr., is 18 and also listed as a laborer, as are Valentine (age 16) and John (age 6) [ I hope the latter is a mistake of the enumerator going too far with the ditto marks but child labor laws did not go into effect until the 20th century so it could be accurate]. The family list also includes George, age 3, and Franki, age 1. 

Climbing My Family Tree: The Syracuse Morning Standard, Saturday Morning, June 18, 1881
The Syracuse Morning Standard, Saturday Morning, June 18, 1881
Contains story of the inquest into the death of Henry Strauss, jr
Click to Make Bigger
In 1881, another tragedy struck the family when Henry, Jr.,died as a result of an injury incurred in a street fight. The newspapers picked up the story and we learn that Henry, Jr., was what we might today call somewhat of a juvenile delinquent. He was described as very smart and a good workman who had a tendency to quit jobs without notice after a few weeks of employment; the newspaper further stated that Henry Jr., was “somewhat dissipated”, frequently intoxicated, and a bully.  In the incident that caused his death, on Saturday June 11, 1881, he was picking on a young man named David McClure, who although about his own age, was known as an “imbecile”.  Henry participated in taunting him, overturning a cart in which McClure had been collecting coal and wood to help heat his family’s home, and McClure hit him in the head with a stick. After Henry, Jr., died, on June 14, a warrant was issued for McClure and he was arrested and held on $1000 bail. Three days later an inquest was held into the cause of Henry junior’s death. After hearing the testimony and evidence presented, the grand jury deliberated and returned a verdict that Henry was killed by the blow struck by McClure but that said blow was provoked and was done in self-defense, or justifiable homicide.  Therefore the charges against McClure would have been dropped.  (Next week I will do two posts – part 1 & 2 - of transcriptions of the article reporting the fight and of the article reporting on the inquest. The differences between the two accounts are interesting, as is the look into the operation of an inquest in the 19th century.)

Can you imagine Rosa’s sorrow not only at the death of her first born son, but at the disgrace in how he died? Both Rosa and Henry were visibly grief-stricken at the inquest. Thereafter, Rosa appears to have had real problems coping with the cascade of tragedies that befell her children. I described what I had found to a friend, who asked me Rosa’s age at that time (45) and commented that that would be more than enough to tip any peri-menopausal woman into a mental health crisis.

The next mention I found of Rosa was in The Syracuse Daily Journal, May 5, 1887, “Deputy Superintendent of Poor Barber made his arrangements to take Mrs. Rosa Strauss, who is insane, to the Utica Asylum yesterday afternoon. When he was already to go after her, word came to him that she had taken ill and could not make the journey. The illness turned out to be a fit of madness, and she was taken to Utica this noon.”  The article does not explain what happened to Rosa’s remaining children when she was committed. I presume the youngest remained in the home in the care of their father and oldest brother, Valentine, who was 23; John Henry was 14, George was 11, and Frank was 8.

The Utica Insane Asylum was the first publicly funded treatment center for the mentally ill in New York. Until 1887, I would have used “treatment” sarcastically as the treatment of the poor and insane in these institutions was rather appalling, but fortunately for Rosa New York was in the midst of a reformation in the treatment of the mentally ill and, as of mid-January 1887, the asylum was no longer using the form of restraint known as the “Utica Crib” (see picture below) as reformers had protested sufficiently to raise awareness, and the new Superintendent made it his mission to get rid of them (Here is an interesting article on the treatment of the insane in 1880). 

Climbing My Family Tree: The Utica Crib, a restraint device used as a restraint device in Insane Asylums in the 19th Century
The Utica Crib, a restraint device used as a restraint device in Insane Asylums in the 19th Century.
Removed from the Utica Insane Asylum in January 1887.
Click to make bigger.

The next year, 1888, Rosa and Henry’s home was listed repeatedly in the paper as one of many properties on which back taxes were owed; $1703 in back taxes was owed on the home. I found it odd that the property was listed solely in Rosa’s name but have not yet been able to find a reason for this.   The County Treasurer put the property up for sale on October 30, 1888, but it did not sell at that time. That stroke of luck did not hold for long. Unfortunately, the Onondaga County Savings Bank subsequently initiated foreclosure proceedings against both Henry and Rosa for the house and lot at 344 West Fayette St, and then sold it on April 19, 1889 for $1725. Now Rosa didn’t even have a house to come home to if she were to get well.

Postcard of Onondaga Savings Bank building in Syracuse NY, now the Gridley Building – ironically, designed by Horatio White, with whom Rosa had worked before her marriage.
Click to make bigger.

On July 12, 1889, the manager at the Utica Asylum telegraphed the County authorities that Rosa Strauss had proved to be chronically insane and should be moved to another asylum for such cases, and on November 15, 1889, the Syracuse Evening Herald reported that Mrs. Rosa Strauss, wife of Henry Strauss, was adjudged a lunatic by a Sheriff’s jury at the Courthouse. She was 53; younger than I am.

She was subsequently remitted to a new facility for the insane, the St. Lawrence Hospital, at Ogdensburg, after it opened in December 1890. I don’t know for sure where she was in the year before St. Lawrence opened but a 1901 "Report of the Rise and Progress of the State of The Care of the Insane", by the Ex- NY Commissioner for the Insane stated prior to the state’s recent reforms that the “Utica Insane Asylum was only intended for a small number of supposedly curable cases. When a patient failed to recover after the lapse of a few months, or a year or two at most, if a public charge, he was returned to the poorhouse of the county whence he came, there to remain until his tormented spirit took flight.” The report went on to reference a report by Dr. Sylvester Willard which described those County Poorhouses as barbaric and “revealed conditions which shocked the entire state”. (The conditions were detailed in the report should you choose to read it, and they definitely do shock the conscience.)  

Climbing My Family Tree: Causes of Insanity (1890-1910)
 Illustration from Quebec Heritage News , July –August 2006, Vol. 3, No. 10, p.4
 I found similar data for NY Asylums for approx. the same period
Click to make Bigger

In 1890, the New York State Care Act passed in which, for the first time, the state assumed full responsibility for all mentally ill, including the mentally ill poor in the county almshouses. Distinctions between acute and chronic mentally ill were eliminated as it was believed that hospitals could provide care that was more individualized and economical. St. Lawrence Hospital at Ogdensburg was one of the new hospitals designed and built to enhance the new more humane theories of treatment. St. Lawrence Hospital was located on 1300 acres on the scenic banks of the St. Lawrence River with such a retreat-like landscape that nearby residents of the city of Ogdensburg would come on Sundays to stroll the grounds, relax, and basically treat it like a park. The buildings were built to support a family-style institution with groupings of small buildings so that patients could be housed according to their particular psychiatric disorder. The buildings housed sleeping quarters on an upper floor, and rooms for day activities below.

A program of morale enhancing treatment was created, aimed at both attitude and environment, described as “a nurturing routine of rest without stress in comforting surroundings”. The Hospital asylum community was created to be self-sustaining, with patients participating in occupational tasks to their ability. Patients grew vegetables and fruit in the garden and raised livestock to feed all the patients. The food served was reported to be both nutritional and aesthetically pleasing. There was also a sewing room and looms at which patients made rugs, blankets, sheets, towels, and underwear. Women patients were also allowed to sew for themselves. There was a library patients were encouraged to use. Patients were also encouraged to participate in recreational activities, such as boat rides, teas, dances, music, art, games, theatre (musicals and comedies), sleigh rides, etc. Family visits were encouraged.

It sounds a wonderful place to live when you can’t cope with life. If Rosa had to be in an insane asylum, I’m glad that she ended up in the St. Lawrence Hospital Asylum at that time.

Climbing My Family Tree: Postcard of St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, NY
Postcard of St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, NY
(handwriting at bottom has nothing to do with our family - who knew there were post cards of insane asylums?)
Click to Make Bigger  

Unfortunately, even while in this nurturing environment, the tragedy in Rosa’s life was not yet over. Her husband Henry died in 1891. The 1892 NY Census showed 14 year old Frank living with his older brother Valentine’s family (listed as George V.); Valentine was 28, a clerk, and married, with one child of his own. I don’t know where 19 year old John Henry or 16 year old George were at that time. However, I do know that on September 19, 1898, when he was 23, George was one of two men who burned to death in a huge fire in Elmswood NY, which destroyed 7 buildings, one of which was the hotel in which George worked as a barber and where he also lived in a room on the second floor. Newspapers of the time were rather explicitly gruesome: “the body of Strauss was in far worse condition, only the ribs and a portion of his trunk being intact. It was also burned to a crisp. Later his legs were found and brought to the city...” He was mainly identified by the room in which he was found. The article identified him as a son of the late Henry Strauss, and stated that he was survived by his mother in the state hospital at Ogdensburg, and three brothers: Frank Strauss of Syracuse, and Valentine and John Strauss of Solvay, NY.

I wonder if Rosa was told or if she could understand if she was told. I think I hope that she was never told, if she didn’t have to know.  It is just too much to have four children die, and two of them (that I know of) in such horrible ways.

Rosa was enumerated in the 1905 NY census as a patient at St. Lawrence at age 67. She remained there until her death, at age 70, on August 31, 1908, and then her body was taken to her son John’s home. The funeral services were held both at the home of John H. Strauss and at St. Joseph’s German Church in Syracuse. Her bearers were her three remaining sons and a nephew. Burial was in the family plot at St. Joseph’s cemetery.  The graves from St. Joseph’s Cemetery were removed to Assumption Cemetery in 1965-1966.

Climbing My Family Tree: Memorial stone for those graves  transferred from St. Joseph's Cemetery  to Assumption Cemetery, Syracuse NY
Memorial stone for those graves (Rosa's among them) transferred from St. Joseph's Cemetery
to Assumption Cemetery, Syracuse NY in 1965-1966.
 Taken  by& posted to Memorial No. 49928491 by Bob Tallieu
Used with permission

I would still like to find out:

how Rosa and Henry met and when they were married;

Polly’s birthdate and what happened to her and when;  

why Charles died at only 8 days old (death certificate);

why the house was in Rosa’s name, and not Henry’s, on the tax rolls; 

find the property records; 

what Rosa’s diagnosis was & more about her life after being committed;

where she was  in 1899 after the Utica Asylum and before the St. Lawrence Hospital; and

how Henry and the boys lived during after Rosa’s commitments.

If anyone has information they would like to share with me about Rosa, please leave a comment below or email me at the address on the “Contact Me” page.
------------------------------ Germany, Select Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014; "New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1891", index and images, FamilySearch ( accessed 10 Jul 2014), Joseph Henn, 1853; U .S Census for 1860, 1870, 1880; NY Census for 1855, 1875, 1905; Find A Grave Memorial# 49928491, created by Bob Tallieu (found at; The Oswego Daily Times, Thursday Evening September 2, 1908 (found at Oswego Palladium, Friday, June 17, 1881 (Found at ) ; The Syracuse Standard for Tuesday Morning, June 14, 1881, Wednesday Morning, June 15, 1881, Saturday Morning, June 18, 1881  (found at; Syracuse Daily Journal [??] 1888 (found at, Syracuse Daily Journal 1888 – 0921.pdf) ;The Syracuse Daily Journal, May 5, 1887, April 19, 1888,  (found at and at; The Syracuse Daily Journal, Tuesday, September 1, 1908,  Wednesday, September 9, 1908 (found at Syracuse Daily Courier, July 12, 1899 (found at; The Syracuse Evening Herald, November 15, 1889, September 19, 1898, & September 3, 1908 (found at; In The Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America, by Michael B, Katz, pp. 103-107, published by Basic Books, copyright 1986 and 1996;   The Prisoners’ Hidden Life, or, Insane Asylum’s unveiled: As Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois, together with Mrs. Packard’s Testimony, by E.P. W. Packard, and Mrs. Sophia Olson, Published by the author, A.B. Case, printer, Chicago (1868), at ; Reprint from The International Review, The Treatment Of The Insane by William A. Hammond, Volume VIII, March 1880, New York: Barnes & Company, Pages 225-241 (found at; Reprint from “The New York Times” Published: November 10, 1901, Copyright @ The New York Times (found at ); Return: A History of  the St. Lawrence State Asylum, Ogdensburg, NY by Andrea Ray (found at;

Sunday, August 17, 2014

52 Ancestors: #28 John Henn (1842-1919) and Elizabeth O’Brian Henn #29 (1853 – 1927)

Climbing MY Family Tree: Burnside Michigan Map
Burnside Michigan, home of John and Elizabeth O'Brian Henn
click to make bigger

This is my latest post for the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge initiated by Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small blog. For more information about the challenge and links to the other blogs participating in the challenge, please click on the badge in the right margin.

I'm still doing catch up posts as I'm still behind for the year. I decided to do another double post as I have had visitors again this past week, and thus not as much time for research or writing. John and Elizabeth (O’Brian) Henn are my second great grandparents on my father’s side. Both immigrated to the United States, as children, with their families in the mid-19th century.

John was born Josephat Henn in Doerlesburg, Baden, part of the German Confederation on February 12, 1842, to Franz Joseph (later Francis)and Katherina Phillipina [Blank] Henn. He was their third son and sixth child. His brothers and sisters were Genofera Blank (later, also known as Genevieve [Henn] Scheer; 1827-1916); Serena Mary Dick (1828-1896); Dorothe (later Dorothea) Snyder (1830-1896);  Andreas (later Andrew) Henn (1832-1911); Generosa (later Rosa) Strauss (1836-1908); Edmund Henn (1838-1961); Franz (later Frank) J. Henn (1843-1928); and Josepha (later Josephine) Schueurmann, (1845-1877). They were all born in Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1853 (see Franz & Phillipina’s story for the immigration story); Josephat was 11 years old.

The family settled in on a farm in West Monroe, Oswego County, New York. Josephat’s older brothers worked as coopers. Josephat learned the needs and skills of coopers from his brothers and farming from his father. Josephat’s older brother Edmund died in 1861 when Josephat was 19, and his father died two years later in 1863.

Climbing My Family Tree: John Henn New York, Civil War Abstract, Muster Roll
 New York, Civil War Abstract, Muster Roll for John Henn, found on
click to make bigger

The Civil War began in 1861 and when Lincoln put out his call for volunteers the men of Oswego County responded immediately and in large numbers; but Josephat and his brother Andrew did not sign up to join the union forces until after their father died.  Josephat, now calling himself John, enlisted in Company G of the 3rd Regiment, NY Light Artillery, on January 26, 1864.  He was 21. The Civil War Muster Roll Abstract, found on, above, describes him as "Born in Germany, occupation, farmer, black eyes, dark hair, dark complexion, height 5 ft, 5 in."

Battery G of the 3rd Regiment NY Light Artillery had already served from 1861 to May 1863, attached to the defenses of Washington, DC to March 1862 and then to the Department of North Carolina until May 1863. A new Battery “G” was organized in February 1864, commanded by Captain David L. Aberdeen, and that is the unit John and his brother Andrew joined.  It was attached to the defenses of New Berne N.C., under the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and then solely with the Department of North Carolina after February 1865. John saw duty as a private in various points in North Carolina through March 1865, and the campaign of the Carolinas under General Sherman from March 1 through April 26, 1865. He saw action in the battle of Wise Forks and participated in the occupation of Goldsboro, NC. John was also part of the armies present when Johnston surrendered to General Sherman on April 26, 1865. (General Sherman had not heard of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox (April 9, 1865) until April 11, 1865. On April 14, General Sherman received a letter under flag of truce from General Johnston seeking an end to the war. General Sherman suspended hostilities and met with Johnston and his generals at Bennett’s Farm House to discuss cessation or surrender on April 17, 18 and, again on April 26, 1865, as the original terms were rejected by Washington as they were more generous than Grant had offered Lee.  Just prior to meeting with General Johnston on April 17, Sherman was informed of Lincoln’s assassination; he told Johnston when they met that day.) John and Andrew continued to serve with the occupying forces until June and then mustered out at Syracuse NY, under Captain William A Kelsey, on July 7, 1865.

Climbing My Family Tree: outside view of Bennett House, where General Johnston surrendered to General Sherman
outside view of Bennett House, where General Johnston surrendered to General Sherman,  published in May 27, 1865 Harper's Bazaar, in public domain
click to make bigger

One of the major industries in Syracuse NY was the production of salt, from the salt marshes on the south shore of Onondaga Lake. The strength of the brine was so strong that one gallon of water could be boiled down to one pound of salt. Salt was then packed in barrels and shipped west and east down the Erie Canal. The industry peaked during the Civil war, but until 1900 the bulk of the salt use in the United States came from Syracuse NY.  When John returned to Syracuse after the Civil War, he observed how many barrels were needed for the industry. He knew, as his brother Andrew was a cooper, that black ash was an excellent wood for the making of the barrels. According to my Grand-aunt Lucille’s book of collected family memories, Members of the Flock, John learned that black ash trees were plentiful in Michigan, and he and his younger brother, Frank decided to go to Michigan in October 1869 to look for black ash trees. In Michigan, the two found abundant black ash trees north of Detroit near Memphis and Capac MI. The two formed a business, hiring other men, to make staves and hoops to make barrels to be shipped in carloads from the Capac railroad to supply the salt industry in Syracuse NY. After a time Frank got homesick and went back to New York, but John remained in Michigan and kept the business. He continued to run it for several years.

According to Grand-Aunt Lucille’s book, John settled in Burnside Township, Lapeer County, Michigan, in 1871, and continued the stave & barrel-making business. Around that time, John also started taking care of his sister’s son, John Philip Henn, who had arrived in Michigan from New York sometime after 1870, at age 15. He lived with John and helped with the business, going by Philip to avoid confusion. Sometime in the next two years John met and wooed Miss Elizabeth O’Brian of Deanville Michigan (which no longer exists).

Climbing My Family Tree: Map of Huron County, Ontario, Canada
Map of Huron County, Ontario, Canada,
where the O'Brian's lived before immigrating to the  United States
click to make bigger
Elizabeth O’Brian was born to James and Anne (McLean) O’Brian on December 12, 1853 in Ontario Canada. I’m not positive where they lived when she was born but I would think that it was in McGillivray, in Huron County, Ontario Canada because her parents and older sister lived there in 1851, according to the Canadian Census, and the family, including Elizabeth, age 8, still lived there in 1861. Her brothers and sisters were: Catherine Priscilla Clink (1850-1938), Janet Dean (1852-?), Margaret Hether (1857-1927), John O'Brian (1859-1935), Annie L. O'Brian (1861-1908), Christy Jane O'Brian (1864-1868), and Ellen L. Harris (1867-1947).

The O'Brian family immigrated to the United Stated in 1863 when Elizabeth was 10 (while over the years, in various U.S. Censuses, Elizabeth claimed to have come to the U.S in 1862, 1863, and 1870, her parents and oldest sister reported in multiple censuses that they came in 1863, so I think that’s when Elizabeth came as well.) When she met John Henn she was living in Deanville, Michigan, where her father was a carpenter by trade, according to Grand-Aunt Lucille’s book, which means they must have met before 1870 because the 1870 census shows that Elizabeth and her family were living on a farm in Maple Valley, Sanilac County, Michigan.

Although I’ve not yet been able to confirm it, grand-Aunt Lucille’s Members of the Flock, states John and Elizabeth were married on February 14, 1873 in Imlay City, Lapeer County Michigan, by the Reverend Emri Steele, a Baptist Minister [I've since found their marriage record & it confirms the date]. This is interesting because John was Catholic and Elizabeth was buried in a Catholic cemetery and so was also likely Catholic. Did they elope? He was 31 and she was 19 years old, some of the family may not have been thrilled by the match. Their first home was in the town of Burnside, Michigan, and it was there that their first three children were born: Otto Frank Henn, on January 25, 1875 (1875-1946); Ella May (Henn) Esper on August 15, 1876 (1876-1942); my great-grandfather Owen James Henn, on November 14, 1878 (1878-1962). The last two children were born after the family moved to a farm about a mile south of town, in Burnside Township, Lapeer County: Floyd Henn, born June 11, 1880 (1880-1943), and Olive Ethyl (Henn) Kreiner, born November 19, 1884 (1884-1938). Philip Henn also lived with John and Elizabeth from the start of their marriage until John bought him a farm in or about 1880. He was successful as a farmer, as he had been as a businessman, and later bought each of his children a farm in the Burnside area, upon which they farmed and lived.

In 1880 John answered questions about his farm for the 1880 Census, non-population schedule. He owned his own farm. He had 40 acres of tilled land and 4 acres in permanent meadows (2 of that hay). He estimated the value of his farm at $1200, farm implements and machinery at $50, $235 in livestock, and $270 in farm production (sold or consumed in 1879). He did not have any paid farm laborers. He owned three horses, 2 working oxen, 2 milk cows, 4 “other” cattle – including 2 calves. He made 150 lbs. of butter (or rather, Elizabeth probably did). They had 1 pig and 18 chickens, which produced 20 dozen eggs in 1879. He had three acres of oats (produced 50 bushels) and 10 acres of wheat (produced 200 bushels). He grew 30 bushels of peas and 30 bushels of potatoes.

Climbing My Family Tree: John Henn, 1880 non population schedule
John Henn, 1880 non population schedule, #1 (found on
Click to make bigger
John Henn was very interested in local politics. He was a staunch Republican – the party of President Lincoln, the President he fought for in the Civil War. He was also civic-minded and lived his principles by serving his community. He served his township as Town Treasurer in 1878 and 1879. He then served as Burnside Town Supervisor for ten years, and was a member of the Board of Supervisors for another ten years. He also acted as a census enumerator (the person who went household to household to ask the census questions and record the answers) for the 1900 Census in Burnside Township, Enumeration District # 32. This service led to John knowing most of the people in his community.

All of his civic government positions were elected positions, such that John repeatedly ran for local office. As his wife, Elizabeth would not only have had his children, raised them, cooked, cleaned, and kept their home, but as a local politician’s wife would have been expected to host social events designed to help support her husband in his campaigns and likely throughout his service.

In 1890 John was listed on a special census for surviving soldiers, sailors, & marines who fought during the “war of the rebellion” and widows thereof,  in Burnside, Lapeer County, Michigan. He did not have a disability at that time. But two years later, on April 16, 1892, he applied for, and was subsequently granted an invalid military pension, according to the U.S. Civil War Pension Index. I haven’t yet sent for his pension file and it’s not up on, but Grand-Aunt Lucille’s book, quotes from a supporting affidavit supplied by John’s doctor, Albert E. Weed, M.D., which indicates John accidentally fell from a scaffold to the floor of his barn in wheat season in 1890, and was laid up for three months as he had injured his hip and back “and has complained ever since”. The doctor said he was now lame and uses a cane. The doctor said he had ¼ the capacity of a normal man. The doctor also noted that he John was entirely deaf in his left ear and had a discharge of puss from the ear in 1894. The doctor said that John told him the deafness came from a brain fever 25 years before and got worse with age. John was granted a $20 a month pension to begin June 29, 1912 (he was 70), the pension was increased to $25 a month on February 12, 1917, his 75th birthday.

John and Elizabeth lived to have 46 years together. John died first, on December 16, 1919, at his home in Burnside Michigan, at age 77, after a two year illness, according to his obituary. The death certificate indicates that he died of arteriosclerosis, which he’d had for two years. It lists “organic heart disease” as a contributing factor to his death. He’d last seen the doctor four days before his death. The obituary states that John had been closely confined to the house for the last two years of his life, and that he suffered a great deal, especially in the last stages, and that he welcomed death as a rest from his physical misery. He was described as one of the most substantial and esteemed citizens of Burnside Michigan, and a faithful friend and splendid neighbor. “Honest, obliging and loyal to his home folk and the country of his adoption. It may be truthfully said of him that a grand old man has gone to his eternal reward.” What a wonderful tribute!
Services were held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Burnside Township, conducted by Rev. Leo Gaffney, and he was buried in the church’s cemetery.

Climbing My Family Tree: John Henn, Civil War Pension Index card
John Henn, Civil War Pension Index card
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After John died, on January 14, 1920, Elizabeth applied for a widow’s pension against his military service; she was granted $30 a month. The 1920 Census, enumerated on the January 17 & 19, 1920, showed Elizabeth, a widow, living with her son Floyd’s family, or rather them living with her, as she was listed as head of household.

Elizabeth died on January 12, 1927, at age 73. Her obituary said that she lived with her son Floyd’s family on the old homestead. She had died after a long illness. She had been in poor health for the last seven years, after John died, but her condition had not become critical until October 1926, since which time she had been unable to leave the house. I have, so far, been unable to find her death certificate so I don’t know what illness she had suffered from nor what caused her death. Services were held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, by Rev. Fr. Hill; she was buried in the church’s cemetery. According to her obituary she was survived by five children: Otto of North Branch, Mrs. Edna (Ella May) Espier of Detroit, Owen and Floyd and Mrs. Ambrose (Olive) Kreiner of Burnside; four sisters, Mrs. Noah (Margaret) Hether of Brown City, Mrs. Catherine Clinck of Chester, Montana, Mrs. Geo. (Ellen) Harris of Redlands, Calif., one brother, John O'Brian of Capac. (The sister not named in the obituary was Mrs. Jeanette Dean, of Buffalo NY, and she did survive Elizabeth, although I don’t know when she died.)

Climbing My Family Tree: Henn Plot at St. Mary's Cemetery, Burnside Michigan
Henn Plot at St. Mary's Cemetery, Burnside Michigan ,
added to Memorial # 41841741 by PAWS on 9/11/2009
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I would love to find pictures of John and Elizabeth, the kids, and/or their farm. If anyone reading this has some and is willing to share, please contact me at the email address on my contact page. I will be ecstatic. I’m willing to share whatever I have (only, I don't have a lot).

I have photocopies, nearly unreadable, of some of John’s civil war discharge papers, and his political campaign material -- I’d love to obtain better digital images of them.

I intend to write off for his pension records, and military records, on the next pass through my research .

I’d like to find newspapers articles mentioning John and or Elizabeth or their kids. I now understand why that that may be difficult. When they visited, Mom mentioned that a huge fire had gone across Michigan at some point and probably destroyed a lot of archives. I’ll try, though.
-----------------------------------------; ;;;;,_New_York;,_New_York; New York, Civil War Abstract, Muster Roll for John Henn, found on; Members of the Flock by Lucille Henn Robson (undated; self-published);  History of Lapeer County Michigan - Page & Co. Publishers, 1884, p. 182; Obituary of John Henn, North Branch Gazette – December 17, 1919. from compilation of research done by George J. Lutz, II (May 30, 1972); Death certificate of John Henn; U.S. Census for 1860, 1880, 1900, 1910, & 1920; U. S. Census non-population schedule for 1880; N.Y. State Census, Oswego County, for 1855; Canadian Census of 1851 & 1861, 1890 Veteran’s Schedule, Year: 1890; Census Place: Burnside, Lapeer, Michigan; Roll: 18; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 55 (; Obituary of Elizabeth Henn (wife of John Henn), Brown City Banner, January 1927.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Last Will and Testament of Francis Henn, signed April 20, 1863

Used via creative commons license; photograph by WilliamJD

I don’t think this can be a 52 Ancestors post because I already wrote about Francis Henn #25 and I think that each of the 52 Ancestors posts is supposed to be about a different ancestor. However, I found this so interesting that I had to post about it even though it will put me even further behind in the challenge.

As I mentioned in the last post I found Francis Henn’s will in the New York, Probate Records, 1629-1971 . Even though it is short, there are several points about it that I found quite interesting. As his will was created on the day of his death, it is likely possible that he knew he was dying and had summoned a lawyer to his side to take down his will. This was not an uncommon occurrence in the 19th century, when even lawyers made house calls (that or he knew the correct legal terminology to use, which is unlikely in a farmer for whom English was a second language).

Climbing My Family Tree: Index to Wills, Surrogates Court, Oswego County
Index to Wills, Surrogates Court, Oswego County
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Wills are a method of passing on real and personal property to the person of your choosing. I was curious as to why it seemed to have taken nearly seven years to get Francis’ Will probated but in doing some research I discovered that  it wasn’t uncommon for probate to take up to a year, and under certain situations take much longer. It is possible (very possible in this case as we’ll see below) that the two witnesses necessary to prove it, and the ability of the executor to post bond (50% of the value of the estate unless waived in the will), were not available at the earliest possible court date. Moreover, Francis died in the middle of the Civil War; it is also quite possible that Court schedules were disrupted and/or witnesses were off fighting. Luckily, it was not necessary to probate the Will in order to empower the executor/executrix to bury the deceased, to pay or to collect bills, and to otherwise handle the property in the estate pending probate. That probably alleviated some of the problems of a drawn out probate in this case as he named his wife, Phillipina, both as Executrix and (initially) sole heir.

This marks Francis as an exceptional man. For most of history married women could not own or inherit property solely in her own being. Everything she was given was her husband’s in law. A woman did have a dower right to a one-third lifetime interest in the marital property (real or personal) upon the death of her spouse. The lifetime right meant that she could share in the rents or profits from that property but did not give her title in it or give her the right to sell or devise (will to someone else) the property. By law, only males or unmarried women over 18 could devise real property.  Married women could devise real property, even property that was hers before the marriage, ­only with the written permission of her husband. Likewise, if a father gave property outright to a married daughter through inheritance, the daughter’s husband would have ownership of that property and could sell or bequeath it to anyone he chose without his wife’s permission. That is why many 18th & 19th Century wills show a father leaving the use of personal property to a daughter for her lifetime, with title to be vested in her children and delivered to them after her death.

In the 19th Century, that began to change as laws were passed piecemeal, state-by-state, across the country allowing married women to own property in their own right. The earliest comprehensive Married Women’s Property Act was passed in New York State on April 7, 1848. It significantly changed the law regarding property rights granted to married women, allowing them to own and control their own property, whether owned before the marriage, or granted her by gift or inheritance during the marriage by someone other than her than her husband. Even so, in culture and practice, change, albeit legal, was slow. Just because it was now legal, did not mean that it was at all common.

But as shown in his will Francis loved his wife and viewed her as his equal in ability to be responsible for the property, and it showed that he loved and viewed his sons and daughters equally and as equals.

Climbing My Family Tree: Record of Application to Prove Will of Francis Henn
Record of Application to Prove Will of Francis Henn
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This first form indicates that Phillipina Henn (#26) appeared in court on 12 October 1871 and applied to have the last Will and Testament of Francis Henn proved. The Surrogate ascertained who all the heirs and next of kin were and required them to appear before him at his office in Sandy Creek NY on 13 November 1871 to attend the probate of the will. On that day no one appeared to oppose the probate of the will. So he proceeded to prove the will in accordance with the law. The will stated as follows:

Climbing My Family Tree: Last Will and Testament of Francis Henn, signed April 20, 1863
Last Will and Testament of Francis Henn, signed April 20, 1863
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Transcription, to the best of my ability:

“In the name of God Amen, I, Francis Henn, of the town of West Monroe in the County of Oswego and state of New York, being a naturalized citizen of sound mind and memory, blessed be almighty God for the same, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in [__?__] and forever following (what is to say)
First.      I give and devise all of my real property, being the farm whereon I now reside, with the appendences, to my beloved wife, Phillipina, situated, lying, and being in the Town of West Monroe, in the County of Oswego and state of New York being part of lots Nos. 17 and 25, township No. 13 of Scriba’s Patent and bounded as follows, viz..on the North by Andrew Shillinger, on the East by said Shillinger and Morris [__?___], on the South by Francis Beresen and W. Brassard and on the West by said Fr. Berensen and Peter Pettit containing 50 acres of land be the same either more or less. Forever to have and to hold the same for her use and support and maintenance forever. Or to sell and dispose of the same at any time after my decease and live and support herself of the [___?_____], and if she chooses at anytime to alienate or sell the same (after my decease) I hereby authorize her as my executrix to give a good warrantee deed and convey the same in fee simple to the purchaser or purchasers in full and ample manner as I myself could or would do were I living.
Second.                I give and bequeath unto my said wife, Phillipina, all household goods or furniture, also all money on hand, money due or to become due either by Notes, Bonds, Contracts or anyother wise, for her use benefit and support. And after her decease I will order and direct that that whatever of the [__?___] of my property shall or may be left, or remain (all her debts, funeral expenses so first being liquidated and paid) that then, the same shall be equally divided among my children, viz – Jenefever, Serena, Dorothea, Andres, Generosa, Josephat, Francis and Josephine, or their heirs in case of either death. Share and Share alike.
Lastly I do hereby constitute and appoint my said wife Phillipina sole executrix of this my last Will and Testament hereby revoking all former wills by me made. In witness whereof I have herewith set my hand and seal this 20th day of April Anno Domini in One Thousand Eight Hundred and sixty-three (1863) Francis Henn (F.J.)
Signed, sealed, published and declared by the Testator as and for his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who at his request in his presence and  in the presence of each other have subscribed our names as witnesses (___?___) Philip Rea West Monroe Oswego County NY. John Brickhammer West Monroe, Oswego County New York.”

Francis did not give Phillipina a life estate in the property, as I initially thought when I saw that he directed the further devising after her death as well. No, he willed it to her outright, giving her the ability to keep it for her support during her lifetime or to sell it “as I myself could or would do were I living”.  He also gave her “all household goods or furniture, also all money on hand, money due or to become due either by Notes, Bonds, Contracts or anyother wise, for her use, benefit and support.” This is rather remarkable. He does go on to direct how the property should be distributed after Phillipina’s death if any “may be left, or remain (all her debts, funeral expenses so first being liquidated and paid)”, but remember, married women did not have the right or ability to devise or will property in New York except as set forth in that 1848 law, which specifically excluded property gifted by a woman’s husband.

Even at that point, he shows that he is a loving and fair father, and an extraordinary man for that time, who saw his daughters as equal to his sons, “the same shall be equally divided among my children, viz – Jenefever, Serena, Dorothea, Andres, Generosa, Josephat, Francis and Josephine, or their heirs in case of either death. Share and Share alike"; the 1848 law allowing his bequest to his daughters to be their sole property and not automatically that of their husbands. (Edmund had predeceased his father, Francis, with no marriage or children.)
Climbing My Family Tree: Witness Attestations proving the Will of Francis Henn
Witness Attestations proving the Will of Francis Henn (the top two affidavitts & writing down the side margin)
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The last form, after the will was set forth, consists of witness statements and may give a hint as to why it took nearly seven years to get the will probated.  It starts out perfectly normally as the first of the witnesses to the signing of the will, Philip Rea, attests that he witnessed the signature of the deceased, who was over 21,  of sound mind, memory, and understanding, and not under any restraint, and competent to devise real estate. However, Philip Rea also attests that the other witness was John Brickhammer, who is now deceased. So they needed to find someone else who had no interest in the will but who could identify Francis Henn’s signature to prove that it was his will.

In that cramped bit of writing in what would have been the white space between form affidavits is the written affidavit of Andrew Shillinger – I believe he is the person the will indicated was Francis’ northern neighbor.  The affidavit, as best as I can read it states as follows:  “Oswego County SS: Andrew Shillinger being duly sworn says that he was acquainted with Francis Henn in his lifetime and with his handwriting and knows the signature to the above described will is his genuine handwriting as he believes and that he was also acquainted with John Brickhammer now deceased and with his handwriting and that his hand name in the said will as a witness is his genuine handwriting as he verily believes.”

With that, the Surrogate, Henry Le Howe declared the will to be properly executed, and recorded, signed, and certified the will in accordance with the provisions of the Revised Statutes, on the 27th day of November, 1871.

I find it very interesting and inspiring to know that we (my Dad, my aunts, my uncle, my brothers, my cousins & I) come from such a loving forward thinking man. It is so moving to me to realize that my great-great-great-grandfather so valued the women in his life that in a time when women were largely considered, at best, “child-like” in their comprehension, ability, and responsibility, and, at worst, “property”, he saw and treated them as equal to himself and his sons. With this sort of legacy, no wonder my Dad is such a wonderful, remarkable man in his own right.


"New York, Probate Records, 1629-1971," images, FamilySearch (,214361501 : accessed 27 Jul 2014), Oswego > Will index 1816-1915 > image 63 of 153.;  "New York, Probate Records, 1629-1971," images, FamilySearch (,214485401 : accessed 05 Aug 2014), Oswego > Wills 1865-1872 vol J-K > image 522 & 523 of 717;; ;; ;'s_Property_Acts_in_the_United_States ;