1867: Zebulon Blakeslee’s second marriage

Sepia Saturday 479: Eighth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

My discovery of the 1860 separation and subsequent divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee prompted a recent genealogy road trip to Montrose, Penna. in search of details and documentation.

I was not able to obtain their divorce decree on that trip — but I was successful in learning about Zebulon’s later life, including details of his second marriage.

https://pixabay.com/photos/rose-flower-petal-floral-noble-3063284/
A midlife second marriage. Nine months after his divorce from my ggg grandmother Hannah, my ggg grandfather Zebulon, 56, married a second time. Was his desire to remarry the impetus to file for divorce?  Photo: annca/Pixabay

Notice of a marriage

From his federal census returns, I knew that Zebulon married a woman named Sarah Ann after his divorce from Hannah. But what was her maiden name, when did they wed and exactly where did they live?

Happily, my visit to the Susquehanna County Historical Society in Montrose provided answers! Because that’s where I found the newspaper announcement of Zebulon and Sarah Ann’s wedding (below) from the 7 June 1867 issue of the Montrose Democrat.

Montrose Democrat (7 Jun 1867): Announcement of the second marriage of my divorced 3rd great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee to Sarah Sherman in Jessup Township, Susquehanna County, Penna. Scan by Molly Charboneau

This brief announcement yielded a wealth of family history information:

  • Exact wedding date: 27 May 1867
  • Bride’s maiden name: Sarah Sherman
  • Bride’s father’s name: Abel Sherman
  • Wedding location and place of residence: Jessup Township in Susquehanna Co., Penna.
  • A civil ceremony: They were married by D. Hoff, Esq.
  • Calculated ages [based on the 1870 federal census]: Zebulon, 56; Sarah Ann, 45; Abel Sherman, 68.

Details tell a tale

When and how Zebulon met his second wife is still unclear. But the fact that he initiated the divorce from Hannah (finalized circa 28 Aug 1866) — and married Sarah Ann nine months later (27 May 1867) — implies that his desire to remarry may have prompted his divorce petition.

By the time of his second marriage, Zebulon had relocated within Susquehanna County. He left Brookdale (in Liberty Township) and moved to Jessup (a township southwest of Liberty) — putting some distance between himself and his past life.

Learning the name of his new father-in-law, Abel Sherman, helped pinpoint exactly where Zebulon might have lived in Jessup (see map below).

https://ancestortracks.com/Susquehanna%20Co.%201858/JessupTwp.jpg
Map of Jessup Township, Susquehanna Co., Penna. (1858). Click map to enlarge. The farm of Abel Sherman is highlighted at the township’s northern border.  In May 1867 — nine months after his divorce — my ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 56, married Abel’s daughter Sarah Ann Sherman, 49, and moved in next door. Map: ancestortracks.com

Abel Sherman: A longtime Jessup resident

Abel Sherman appears in one source as an 1827 taxpayer in Susquehanna County’s Bridgewater Township, east of Jessup.

But by 1847 he was listed on a roster of Jessup Township taxpayers, in 1858 he was named on the Jessup map above, in 1866 he hosted his daughter’s Jessup wedding ceremony, and in 18601and 18702he was enumerated as a farmer, with his wife Louisa, in the Jessup federal censuses.

I took a careful look at Abel’s 1870 federal census enumeration, and what do you know: Zebulon and Sarah Ann lived two houses down from her father! Zebulon’s 1870 occupation was “Day Hand.” So I wonder: Did he work in that capacity on Abel Sherman’s farm? Was that how Zebulon met Sarah Ann?

A civil ceremony

Also of interest is that D. Hoff, Esq. presided at Zebulon and Sarah Ann’s wedding — apparently a civil ceremony. Zebulon’s daughters Rhoda and Mary (my great-grandmother) were both married by Presbyterian ministers — so that might have been Zebulon’s denomination. But since he was divorced, maybe a church wedding wasn’t possible for him the second time around.

Nevertheless, it appears that Zebulon and Sarah Ann (Sherman) Blakeslee made a go of their midlife marriage — remaining together until Zebulon’s death.

And although they did not have children together, I may still have some of cousins-in-law out there — descendants of Sarah Ann’s younger brother Charles Sherman and his wife Hannah.3

Up next: Zebulon Blakeslee’s final years. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Genealogy road trip yields Blakeslee breakthroughs in Montrose, Penna.

Sepia Saturday 478: Seventh in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

Genealogy road trips were a regular part of my recipe for success when I first began compiling my family’s history. Few records were digitized then, and it was fun to visit locales where my ancestors lived — especially when my parents came along.

Later, as more records went online, it became easy to research from home — and even easier to forget just how many valuable non-digitized records (most, actually) still exist in repositories all over.

Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose, Penna. (2019) The Historical  Records room houses early court, divorce, land and tax records that yielded new information about my Blakeslee and Hance ancestors. Photo by Molly Charboneau

When I recently discovered the 1860 separation and 1866 divorce of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, I realized online research would not be enough to fill in all the gaps.

So I decided it was time for new genealogy road trip to the Susquehanna County seat in Montrose, Penna. — where I went earlier this month to see what I could find.

Overall, I was not disappointed!

Alas, no divorce record, but…

Montrose is a lovely town with a verdant park, Monument Square, situated between the county courthouse and the Susquehanna County Historical Society (SCHS) — my two research destinations.

Historical Records room, Susquehanna County Courthouse, Montrose, Penna. (2019) Bound volumes of indexes and records line the shelves of the Historical  Records room, which is open to family history researchers. Photo by Molly Charboneau

At the courthouse, the Prothonotary escorted me to the Historical Records room on the second floor — the home of early divorce, court, land and tax indexes and records.

I had hoped to obtain a copy of my Blakeslee ancestors’ 1866 divorce decree to shed light on that event.

Alas, my search was thwarted because there was no court index for 1866 and divorces were not indexed before the 1870s.

But happily other years were cataloged.

Court, land and tax record success!

So I decided to see what else I could find about my Blakeslee ancestors. With the help of staff, I looked at old tax records, court proceedings and land transactions — and found my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee in all three!

In the tax rolls we also found some of my third great-grandmother Hannah’s family, the Hances — an unexpected bonus! Since tax records are digitized on the courthouse computer system, the Historical Records staff printed those out for me.

The old court records were in bound volumes, which I photographed with my tablet — more gentle on the folio-sized record books than attempting to photocopy them.

And when I provided the book, page and year from a deed index, the Register & Recorder staff was able to immediately print the 1827 deed for a land purchase in Lawsville, Penna., by Zebulon Blakeslee from David Fish — also digitized in the courthouse computer system.

Card files and newspapers

Next I crossed the square to the Susquehanna County Historical Society, which recently reopened for research after expanding into the entire old library building. The renovated facility is a researcher’s dream!

Susquehanna County Historical Society, Montrose, Penna. (2019) The SCHS recently reopened for research after expanding into the entire old library building. The renovated facility is a researcher’s dream! Photo by Molly Charboneau

There are card files by surname (for marriages, deaths and “odd” information from local papers/publications), compiled family histories, county histories, a huge book collection — and full sets of microfilm for the Montrose Democrat and other local newspapers.

How pleasant to work in the sunny, welcoming central research room — and to peruse books and photo displays in several side rooms.

As soon as I indicated that Blakeslee and Hance were my families of interest, staff brought out the appropriate binders/files and pointed me to pertinent books and county/biographic histories. For the usual per-page photocopy fee, I was able to photograph the records I needed with my tablet.

Blakeslee breakthroughs

A careful look at the card files yielded my latest Blakeslee breakthroughs — finally finding the date and place of death of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee and learning the maiden name of his second wife, Sarah Ann, from their marriage announcement!

Main research room of the Susquehanna County Historical Society, Montrose, Penna. (2019) Card files organized by surname contain excerpts of marriages, deaths and “odd” information from local newspapers and other publications, which can then be printed from SCHS microfilm holdings. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The notices of both events were available from microfilmed issues of the Montrose Democrat (covering time periods that I have not found online) — and SCHS staff quickly retrieved and printed copies for me.

Altogether, I spent about four hours in Montrose on a beautiful summer day — time well spent for the records I was able to retrieve!

And the journey renewed my belief that — even in the digital age — genealogy road trips should be part of every family history researcher’s recipe for success.

More on the Blakeslee breakthroughs from this genealogy road trip in the next post.  Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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The “widowhood” of Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 477: Sixth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

After the 1866 divorce of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, their lives took different paths.

Zebulon moved to a new town and married a younger second wife. But Hannah took a different route, characterizing herself as a “widow” until her dying day — a portrayal so convincing that it has taken me years to unravel what really happened with their marriage.

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-02f1-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Widow walking through a cemetery (1901). Rather than admit to being divorced at age 54, my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee portrayed herself as a “widow” for the rest of her life — a socially acceptable ruse that her family apparently went along with. Source: NYPL Digital Collections

How was Hannah so successful at recasting her life? Perhaps because the tenor of the times made her explanation plausible — and her family seems to have gone along with the socially-acceptable ruse.

A sea of war widows

When the Blakeslees separated circa 1860, the U.S. was undergoing a period of rapid change. Better transportation led to greater mobility, and women’s rights were also expanding — so moving to Delaware County with her daughters Mary and Rhoda to escape an unhappy marriage was a viable option for Hannah.

When Zebulon’s divorce petition was granted in 1866, the U.S. Civil War had recently ended — leaving in its wake a sea of bereaved war widows. By then, Hannah no longer lived where she had when married, and none but her family members knew about Zebulon — so why not become one more “widow” at a time when there were many?

Hannah’s daughters and their families appear to have concurred with her decision. For when the census takers called in subsequent years, she was consistently listed as “widowed” — even though Zebulon was still alive in Jessup, Susquehanna Co., Penna., according to his census returns.

1873-1886: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in New York and U.S. censuses & Binghamton, N.Y., city directories – Sources: FamilySearch/Ancestry
Year Record Name/Age Job/Status Household
1873 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakesley, 61 Widow Zebulon, domestic 196 Court
1875 NYS Census, Binghamton 4th Ward, Broome, N.Y. Hannah Blakeslee, 65 (indexed as “Hannah B. Cackster”) Now a widow Son-in-law William W. Whitney
1880 US Census, Binghamton, Broome, N.Y. Hannah Blakesley, 68 Widowed/ Divorced (hashmark in column) Grandson Albert E. Whitney, 4 Butternut
1885 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakeslee, 73 Widow Zebulon 4 Butternut
1886 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakeslee, 74 Widow Zebulon 4 Butternut

Hannah’s tale turns true

I have not yet located a death record for Zebulon — or any record past his 1880 U.S. Census entry, at age 70, in Jessup Township, Susquehanna County, Penna. Nor do I know where he is buried.

Zebulon’s date of death is given as 5 Jan. 1880 in a multigenerational chart of Hannah’s Hance family — published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record as “John Hance and Some of His Descendants.”4

However, Record articles at that time were not footnoted or sourced –and his date of death appears be inaccurate.

Zebulon was enumerated in the 1880 federal census and I have not found him in the 1880 mortality index — indicating he was likely still alive on 5 Jan. that year.

My ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s stone in Shawsville Cemetery, Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. When she died, Hannah was living with her daughter Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull and son-in-law Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran,  in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y. Although divorced from Zebulon since 1866, Hannah carried her public persona as his “widow” to the grave. Photo: Paul R. (Find a Grave)

Yet as the 1880s progressed Zebulon probably did pass away — lending credence to Hannah’s public persona as his “widow.”  And her family went along to the end — giving her marital status as  “widowed” on her death certificate and memorializing her as the “Wife of Zebulon Blakeslee” on her tombstone.

There will be more on the Blakeslees once I (hopefully!) obtain their divorce decree and related records. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time