(searching for proof)
By Lonnie Decker
January 3, 2002
I’ve arrived in Lockport, New York, on the first stay of my trip. I think most people would think I’m nuts to spend my vacation in libraries all across New York state. As much as try to gather info, I want to see the places my ancestors lived. In trying to sort out who lived where, it is hard because I don’t have a picture of the places in my mind, and a feel for where they are in relation to each other. So it is that I am in Lockport. The real focus of my attention is nearby Newfane. The 1860 federal census shows Samuel Decker living with his family in Newfane, Niagara County. The 1870 census shows his wife, Mary, living in Newfane. James was born in 1864, according to his obituary, near Syracuse. First step is to try to find more information on this part of the family.
At this point, I am not sure what to expect of this trip. Not sure of the direction I will be able to go, or what I will find. Not really sure that I know what I am looking for. I had hoped to have more time to prepare, but with the holidays just being over with, January 3 just snuck up on me.
Petty details: 337 miles in about 6 hours from Bay City, MI to Lockport, NY. My plan is to be here two nights, with a trip to Newfane (Corwin Cemetery), as well as library research.
January 4, 2002
A quick trip to Walmart for a book of detailed maps of New York, and it was off to the Lockport Public Library. As I began looking through the census information for the state census (1855, 1865, and 1875) I started to wonder “What if I don’t find anything?” The first couple of Decker entries were not panning out, but the third one did. James is not mentioned in the 1870 federal census for Newfane. But the state census information paid off. Samuel and Mary are listed in the 1855 census, Newfane district #2, with daughter Harriet (1 year old). Strangely, Harriet is listed as a head-of-household, even as an infant. Also from the 1855 census, information on Samuel’s farm is listed – 7 ˝ acres. In the 1865 census is Samuel I. Decker and Mary L. Decker with children Harriet A. (11), George W. (6) and James F. (1 ˝). Samuel is listed as being born in Albany County, Mary and children were born in Niagara County. By 1875, Samuel and Mary Lovina are not listed, and Charles W. Decker (13) and Elva L. Decker (8) are living with grandparents Richard and Adaline Barber. This pretty much confirms much of the information that I previously thought, but had no proof. Richard and Adaline are both buried in Corwin Cemetery, near Newfane. Mary is listed in the 1850 census as Lovina Barber in her parent’s household. She was 16. The final clue here is an 1869 Niagara County Directory. Samuel is listed on page 143 as “Decker, Samuel I., (Coomer,) lot 38, farmer, 7 ˝.” Coomer was the post office. This shows that Samuel died around 1869-1870, and Mary (Lovina) between 1870 and 1875.
Next stop was to the Niagara County Genealogical Society in Lockport. At first, this seemed like not much else was going to turn up here. The difference was the state census information was in books, so it was quite helpful to verify the information that was printed on the microfiche from the library. But then I was directed to the map on the wall – a reprint of the 1860 Niagara County map of landowners. With a bit of looking in the Newfane area, I finally found S. I. Decker – in section 38 – right where the county directory said he was in 1869. Practically across the road is the Barber family – Mary’s parents.
What I don’t know: I don’t know where Samuel and Mary Lovina are buried. Her parents were buried in Corwin Cemetery, and the information I have found previously says that they are supposed to be there as well, but the records were destroyed in 1931 (this is correct). There are some unreadable gravestones. Unfortunately, due to the cold and snow, I will probably have a hard time verifying any of this, but this is part of my plan for tomorrow. Cemetery listings at the Niagara County Genealogical Society seem to confirm this. Also, I don’t know what happened to the children. Charles and Elva ended up with grandparents, but I have no idea what happened to James between 1865 and about 1890 when he ended up in Michigan. They all seem to have been out of Niagara County by 1880.
January 5, 2002
Today was a very long day. Another 5 ˝ hours of driving time, another 350 or so miles. But the first stop of the day was Newfane. I feel now that I understand Samuel. I visited Corwin Cemetery, and indeed found the graves of Richard and Adeline Barber, where it is reported that Samuel and Mary are buried. One broken headstone next to their graves may be the place. It is worn smooth. In the area are some more spots that could be graves, and farther over are the graves of William G. Barber and his wife Clarissa. I took several pictures (Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3, Picture 4, Picture 5).
Next stop was only a couple of miles away. Near the intersection of Coomer Rd. and McClelland Rd was the homestead of Samuel. This is where James Franklin Decker was probably born. Although I couldn’t tell exactly where it was, I took a couple pictures of the area that Samuel farmed (Picture 1, Picture3), and across the road in the other direction where the Barber farm was (Picture 2). Then I went into Newfane to the library. This is a small library and I didn’t expect to find much – maybe some local history. Even so, there was an atlas of Niagara County, showing that in 1875 the property was now listed as owned by “Decker EST.” After lunch at the Creekside Country Café, it was time to hit the road for Kingston.
I kept thinking as I was driving that really I am heading back in time. I could see it somewhat in the towns and buildings along the way. The hills reminded me of driving in northern Michigan. But to me, I was driving from the 1850s to the early 1700s. I went on past Albany, where I expect to find more information next week. Samuel was reportedly born in Albany County. But for now, I am in Kingston. I even felt the anticipation grow the closer I got. Tomorrow being Sunday, I am not sure what I will be able to do tomorrow. I have been hearing rumors that snow is expected for tomorrow as well. This could put a damper on some of my plans as well. But anyway, just being in Kingston feels good. So much history here. Time to go find some of it.
January 6, 2002
First stop of the day was the Old Dutch Church (picture 1, picture 2) in Kingston. What an awesome sight. It was a chilly morning, but I wandered around for about ˝ hour. Just looking at the church, and the gravestones. This church building doesn’t date back to the days of Kingston, but the site does. There were a lot of familiar names, but I didn’t wander in the yard behind the fence to find any Deckers. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will go back there and see about finding records. From the church, it was only a short drive to the Stockade District. This is where the homes were built inside the stockade to protect them from the Indians. Jan Broersen owned lot 11 inside the stockade. There are a few buildings there yet, most prominently the Senate House, built by Wessel Wesselse Ten Broeck, father of Elsie Ten Broeck who married Cornelius Decker in 1695. After snapping a few pictures, it was time to head south.
I had prepared some maps and directions, so I knew where I was heading. Still, I found a tangled mess of curvy, hilly roads. But I found my way to the Town of Shawangunk. My destination was the Decker houses listed in the book “Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley Before 1776” by Helen Wilkinson Reynolds (1929). First was the home listed as plate 65 in that book. I found it – 335 Red Mills Rd. It sits back off the road, and is not easily visible from the road. I took a snapshot anyhow. After that, I headed off to the other house – plate 66 of the book. It is there, just south of Dwaar Kill, just like the book says. Imagine my surprise that it now has a restaurant attached by the name 1776 Colonial House (picture1, picture 2). I was there on a Sunday morning, and the restaurant opened for dinner at 4:00. I knew where I’d be eating dinner.
One more short drive from there and I reached Decker Rd. Not a long road – a few miles winding along the Dwaar Kill river. Amongst the many homes was one old one – so I snapped a picture of it. Now what to do until 4:00? Heading back north, I chanced on a side trip that I almost missed. Maybe within a mile I came across the Shawangunk Reformed Dutch Church. Behind the church was the cemetery. It was almost 11:00, and people were showing up for services. I was in the graveyard, marveling at all the Deckers buried in the graveyard. Eventually, I worked my way to the oldest part of the graveyard, right behind the church. Even in this limited area of 19 rows, I counted nearly 40 headstones with Decker on them. Many were well worn and barely readable, but I wrote down what I could. The most notable of these, and one of the oldest, was one right behind the church that read, “Johannis C. Decker who departed this life September 2nd, 1814, Aged 47 years and 3 months.” He was the grandson of the Johannes Decker who built the stone house on Red Mills Rd. After nearly three hours wandering around and jotting down notes, I probably had the closest connection to that past that I have had. These were real people. They were born here, lived here. Died here. Although they are descendents of Cornelius and not Jacob, they are still connected. And here, I could feel the connection.
From here I still had a couple hours, so I headed back to Kingston for a little shopping, then back to the 1776 Colonial House restaurant. After eating, I talked to the proprietors, and was treated to a look inside the house. Turns out, this was the site of a Decker reunion this fall. One of the visitors at this reunion left a book of information, copies of which I have been promised will be sent to me. The historical marker outside reads:
Built by Garret Decker
Circa 1730. Addition by
William Decker 1776
Part of a 2000 acre
Grant by Queen Ann in 1709
The thirty minute drive back to Kingston was beginning to feel familiar. There is a lot to learn still in Shawangunk, but I have learned a lot. The pronunciation, I am told, is Shong – um.
January 7, 2002
Not as much to report today. I first headed back downtown to the Old Dutch Church, and wandered around to look at the old buildings and get a feel for the stockade area. I find out now that it was bigger than what I had thought. I still do not know exactly where Lot 11 was, but I wandered around the whole area, even in the snow. Kingston got a few inches of snow overnight, and more this morning. Albany got over a foot, and that was my destination for tonight. I had hoped to go inside the church, but was unable. From there it was a short trip to the Kingston Library. One of the things I was able to find there was a list of those buried at the church. No Deckers were listed. On one of the websites there is information on those buried that includes the name Decker. I will have to send for the information. One of the things I did find at the library was a list of those buried at the Shawangunk Reformed Dutch Church cemetery. I made a copy of those pages to match up with my looking at the headstones yesterday. This list was made in 1924 so it is probably a little more accurate than what I was able to see. Also, I was able to see and transcribe the wills of several Deckers from Ulster County. These should be helpful in matching up families.
After leaving Kingston, I headed north. Kingston is a confusing town. Next stop was the Hope Farm Press & Bookshop in Saugerties. This bookstore has a wonderful website (www.hopefarm.com) with a lot of information, so I had to stop on my way by and see the bookstore. I bought a map of Livingston from the mid 1800s, because I could see a Decker on it – even folded up and wrapped in plastic.
Heading even farther north, into the deeper snow, I found the going even more slow. Next stop was the Columbia County Historical Society in Kinderhook, but I got there too close to closing time, what with the weather and the extra time I took at the Kingston library. I was able to do a quick look through some stuff. There were a lot of Deckers in the county in the 1800s. I have their address so I can write them with requests for information, depending on what I find in Albany.
Ah, Albany. This seems to be a confusing town too. Maybe it was the foot of snow they got today, but it took me a while to find my way around. But I am settled in and ready to plan tomorrow. My plan is to spend the day at the New York State Library – but not sure what I am looking for, as usual. Mostly though, I know that I want to find the Columbia & Albany County connection – Gerrit, Myndert, Michael, Samuel. Any & all information that I can find on these individuals.
January 8, 2002
I arrived at the New York State Library right after they opened at 9:00am, and stayed until nearly closing time at 5:00. I only looked at about 3 books all day, and can call it nothing more than an unqualified success. I will go back tomorrow for much of the day before I head west to start my journey home.
The first two books I looked at were the baptisms and marriages at the Linlithgo Reformed Dutch Church in Livingston, N.Y. I spent a good deal of the day entering 230 baptism records of all children with a Decker (or Dekker) as a parent. This will match up well with the Kingston Reformed Dutch Church records that I have already entered (and bought the book for). Included in the list of baptisms are the children of Gerrit Decker & Jannetje M’Clean (including Myndert), and the baptisms of two children of Myndert Decker and Sarah Shutts (Jacob & John). Also, I entered the 41 marriages in that church from 1723 to 1899 with a Decker as bride or groom. I have a feeling that Myndert may have ended up in Berne, as Samuel is supposed to have been born there.
The third book that I found of great interest was a book of information from the Decker Family Reunion in Shawangunk from 1997. I mentioned that there was a reunion here last fall, but this book is from the first one in 1997. There is a lot of good information in the book, almost too much for me to handle. I copied off the tree information that shows how all those who attended are related. This will help me to match up some of my facts, and fill in some more information. I may want to take another look at this book tomorrow. I also copied off some addresses of some contacts from this book. I realize the information is about 4 years old, but I will try to contact someone from this book. They have created a Decker Family Association of Shawangunk, which I am guessing held the reunion last fall.
10:00pm: I happened to notice that one of the participants at the reunion in 1997 is descended from the same line (Jan Broersen, Jacob Janse, Jans), and lives in New York. A look in the phone book to see where Loudonville is showed me that he lives nearby, and the address is the same. So I called John Decker, and we chatted for over an hour. We had a real nice talk, discussing the Deckers from New York, and much of the information he had matches my information (Gerrit, Myndert, Michael, Samuel). I am now convinced that I am right.
January 9, 2002
Another long day of driving, with one more ahead of me. Tomorrow I will be heading home. I was back at the New York State Library in Albany right as they opened once again today. I think I could spend a week there. Today wasn’t quite as good as yesterday, probably because I knew my time was limited so I was careful not to get into anything that would likely take a lot of time – such as looking at census data on microfilm. I can probably do more of this in Lansing, anyway. Instead, I spent a lot of time looking through church records. I found a few more baptisms for related Deckers in the other churches in Columbia County. I also found books containing copies of the original records from the Linlithgo Reformed Church. I was able to get a copy of the baptism record entered for Myndert. I also made a copy of much of the interesting information from the book compiled from the Decker Reunion in Shawangunk.
Now after another 4 ˝ hours of driving, I am just outside of Buffalo, ready to head back home tomorrow. This is back in the Lockport/Newfane area, where I have one more stop to make. I intend to stop at the Niagara County Historian’s office in Lockport, to see if they have any information on Samuel or his family.
January 10, 2002
Back home. I stopped at the Niagara County Historian’s office today as planned, and looked in the file for Decker. Almost nothing. Then I looked in the file for Barber, and got a copy of the obituary of Adeline Barber, Mary Lovina’s mother. Then I headed across the street to the Courthouse to look for wills. After digging through the index books for a while, I was finally able to locate the entries for Guardianship of James, George, Charles, and Elva. The hard part was actually being able to find the books. They weren’t sure where they were located, as the records dated to the 1870s and 1880s. Looking through all the books upstairs, the desired books were nowhere to be found. So I was directed to the old vaults in the basement, where there were more books than there was organization. But after a while, and some persistence, I was able to find the books I was looking for. I almost think this was the best thing I found on the whole trip. I wasn’t even expecting to find it. The records show that the kids lived with their grandmother when Mary Lovina died, then later with a James O. King in Ridgeway in Orleans County. It was definitely worth the effort to find.
Considering that going in I
didn’t know what I would find, it was definitely a great trip.
Not only do I have a picture of the places where all these names
lived (Kingston, Newfane, Shawangunk, Dwaarkill, etc.), but I also got to
see some of their homes, churches, and graves.
Also, I found something interesting each day, and several great
finds. Now the only thing I
have left is to make sense of all that I have learned, and to share it
Nitty Gritty Details:
0 4:44pm Left Bay City (January 3, 2002)
337 10:30pm Lockport, NY
374 12:37pm Leaving Newfane for Kingston (January 4)
712 5:55pm Arrived Kingston, NY
996 In Albany (January 6)
1010 3:00pm Leaving Albany for Lockport/Buffalo (January 9)
1284 7:45pm Arrived Buffalo (outskirts)
1301 3:00pm Leaving Lockport for home (January 10)
1629 6:50pm Arrive Bay City