A bewildering Blakeslee saga

Sepia Saturday 458. First in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

Researching distant female ancestors can be challenging because at one time women accumulated few records in their own name.

In addition, women who lived in rural areas — like my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — lacked city directories and local newspapers where their personal details might appear.

So I do not know as much about Mary Elizabeth as I do about her husband — my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull, a veteran of the Union Army’s 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery. Yet I long to know more.

Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. (1876). The Conklin countryside where my Blakeslee ancestors lived forms the backdrop to these early lithographs.. As a young woman coming of age in a rural setting, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull accumulated few records in her own name. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections

In this new blog series, I hope to review what my past research has revealed about Mary — and to identify what more is needed to paint a fuller picture of her life.

First federal census

Mary’s parents were Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee (who I have written about on Molly’s Canopy) and Zebulon Blakeslee (whose given name I love, but about whom I know far less).

The bewildering Blakeslee saga begins with Mary at age 12 in the 1850 U.S. Census of Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. — the first in which she appears by name — to see what her family’s enumeration reveals.

1850 U.S. Population Census – Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. – Aug. 6, 1850 – Source: FamilySearch[1]FamilySearch requires free login to view records.
Family Dwell Name Age Job Property Birth School
230 231 Z. Blakesley 42 Farmer $2,000 CT
Hannah Blakesley 37 PA
Mary E. Blakesley 12 NY X
231 232 Wm. Whitney 31 Farmer $1,000 NY
Rhoda Ann Whitney 19 PA
John Stevens 14 NY

For starters, this census indicates Mary’s parents were born at a geographic remove from one another: her father in Connecticut and her mother in Pennsylvania.

Mary had an older sister Rhoda Ann (who has also appeared previously on this blog). In 1850, Rhoda was living next door with husband William Whitney and a young man, John Stevens, whose relationship is not stated.

The census says Rhoda was born in Pennsylvania (circa 1831) while Mary was born in New York (circa 1838).

Conklin is just north of the Pennsylvania border, so it’s not unusual that the sisters were born in different states. However, if accurate, their differing birth locations are a clue that the Blakeslee family likely moved sometime in the mid-1830s.

Adjoining family farms

Zebulon’s farm in Conklin was valued at $2,000 (equivalent to about $64,542 in today’s dollars) — a respectable spread. The neighboring farm of his son-in-law William Whitney was worth $1,000 (or about $32,271 in today’s dollars).

Both families were apparently doing well, because their farms were comparable in value to those of nearby neighbors.

Mary’s sister Rhoda, 19, was newly married — having wed William on 9 Dec. 1849, according to a transcribed wedding announcement in Maurice R. Hitt’s Genealogical gleanings from early Broome County, New York newspapers (1812-1880). And Mary, 12, was attending school — a positive sign that she was not needed at home to help with the workload.

Up next: What more could I learn about the Blakeslee family farm where Mary lived in 1850? Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

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1 FamilySearch requires free login to view records.

5 thoughts on “A bewildering Blakeslee saga”

  1. For this research in earlier times the church records on marriages, births, and deaths must be especially important for tracing the lives of women. Reading the connection between Connecticut and Pennsylvania makes me think about how the network of transportation, i.e. routes by sea, river, road and the rail probably changed family relationships more than we can fully see in hindsight.

  2. The name ‘Whitney’ caught my eye – though there are no William Whitneys in my family background. I am related to some rather interestingly named Whitneys, however, such as Ira Edwin, Cassius Kelley, Guert Dewey and Harry Elisha to name a few. Of the Whitney women, I’ve always liked the names Abigail and Delia Ann, but no Rhoda.

  3. This will surely be interesting. I am more accustomed to researching Confederate widows, so I am interested in what compensation or services or whatever was available to Union widows.

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