By rights, this shouldn't have the title it does. The puzzle I ran into actually dates to almost the very beginning of my genealogy project and doesn't only reflect the puzzle of Asa Hamlin's father. In my senior year in high school, I began to seriously consider my paternal line. My father and family documents were able to trace me back through my grandfather, Henry Irving Baker, Jr., to my great-grandfather, Henry Irving Baker, Sr., and finally to my great-great-grandfather, Clarence Hamlin Baker.
Family documents (a copy of the family Bible records) said that Clarence Hamlin Baker was born in Newfield, Connecticut on Feb 1, 1855. The only problem was that I couldn't actually find a Newfield, Connecticut. I considered various other towns - Newington or New Haven, perhaps? I finally decided that Newfield must be a town that no longer exists, and went to the National Archives to look at some of their old maps of CT. No go. There wasn't a Newfield on any of them. I couldn't believe that I had as much information as I did, and for such a recent case and yet I couldn't find the place.
Finally, I was able to look at some Connecticut gazetteers. Newfield was listed as a village incorporated within the city of Torrington, Connecticut, and my mystery was solved. Within months, I had identified Clarence's father as Henry Walter Baker, using census records. I also had Clarence's mother's first name: Lura.
Shortly after that discovery, I began the search for Lura's parentage. I was able to glean a lot from the census records. I knew the date of her birth down to the month (Jul 1834 - thanks to the 1900 census) and knew that she was born in Connecticut. I knew she had married Henry W. Baker in Oct 1850 and that they had lived in western Connecticut for at least part of her married life. I found the family with little trouble in 1860, living in New Britain, CT. I couldn't find the family at all in 1870, but I was able to find the family with no problem in the 1880 census, living in Winchester, CT. In 1900, I knew that they were living with their son Clarence in Poughkeepsie, NY, and by 1910, both Henry and Lura had disappeared. I guessed that they had both probably died.
Next, I went in search of a death certificate index for Poughkeepsie, NY, hoping to find a death certificate for Lura with more information on her birth or parentage, but came up dry; no index for that time period exists. I looked in the 1890 census of NY Civil War veterans and also came up dry. I reviewed the marriage records for various towns in western Connecticut, using the Barbour Collection of Connecticut Vital Records, and couldn't find one that matched. I guessed that Lura was a Hamlin, based on her son's middle name and the fact that there was a Margaret Hamlin living with them in 1860 (who I guessed was a sister) but still couldn't find any records or family histories that matched.
Finally, I found a copy of an 1883 Connecticut list of Civil War pensioners and I discovered that Henry W. Baker was a Civil War veteran, living in West Winsted, CT and that he had a lengthy pension file. This file contained a wealth of information on Henry Baker, especially medical data. Among other things, it also contained a record of the marriage between Henry W. Baker and Lura A. Hamlin from Oct. 27, 1850 at the Methodist Church in Torrington, Connecticut. I finally had some additional information to go on. I was sure now that Lura was a Hamlin.
Interestingly, the pension file contained information on Lura's death as well, since she drew down Henry's pension after his death. My earlier guess - that Lura had died in Poughkeepsie between 1900 and the 1910 census - turned out to be wrong. Lura actually died in Greenfield, Massachusetts, of all places. I never would have looked there. Apparently, she was living with a granddaughter's family when she died, not with her son in Poughkeepsie. I'm glad now that I didn't devote too much time to browsing for death records that wouldn't have existed! Shows how wrong hunches can be.
From there, I started reading everything I could find on Torrington, hoping to find a lead on the Hamlin family. I searched the census records for Lura's family as a child with every permutation of Hamlin I could think of. Since Lura wasn't the head of household, and I didn't have access at that time to an index of individuals, I kept coming up dry. I did, however, find Lura with her husband, H. W. Baker, in the 1870 census. Since Henry had been listed with his initials only, I hadn't found him in my earlier searches. It is a good reminder that if you are searching for an individual in the census records, particularly if you are using one of the on-line databases, that you need to search a variety of name possibilities, including initials. Conveniently, an Asa Hamlin, born in Connecticut, was living with the Baker family in that year and I hypothesized that it was Lura's father.
Nonetheless, I couldn't find any additional information about Asa Hamlin and his family in earlier censuses. Eventually, I stumbled across a reference to the family in History of Torrington by the Rev. Samuel Orcutt (Albany: J. Munsell Printers, 1878) which lists genealogies in the back. Unfortunately, these genealogies are not included in the index to the book, which means that unless you are incredibly scrupulous, you may miss some important information. I didn't find the reference to Asa Hamlin and his wife Abigail Loomis until the second time through the book, when I went by hand through the genealogies, looking at each page for a clue.
In the genealogies of History of Torrington was the following note about the Hamlin family:
"Asa Hamlin came from Somers, Tolland, CT, m. Abigail Loomis, lived in Torrington hollow, and Wolcottville. He d. about 1870 in Winsted. They had the following children:
Lura Abigail Hamlin
2. Maryette Hamlin
3. Alma Jane Hamlin
4. Margarett Hamlin"
The book also had this to say of Torrington Hollow where the Hamlin family lived:
"The first name that is now remembered as designating this part of the town, was Poverty hollow, a name that never attracted many persons to any place, although many have known where such a hollow was situated. Thus things passed for a time until after the building of the cotton mill [Torrington Manufacturing Company, built in 1813], when it came to be called Cotton hollow; but by some mysterious magic, has so far asserted its majesty as to throw off the Cotton, and now stands in the dignity of Torrington hollow; the post office however, has taken to itself the whole honor of the town and is known by the one word, Torrington."
Asa Hamlin is also listed in 1835 as a freeman of Torrington, CT according to the History of Torrington. Oliver Hamlin is also listed as a freeman in 1834. They are the only two Hamlins on the list.
In subsequent searches of the area using the census records, I found Asa Hannum and his family listed in the census and Asa Hamlin listed in the census, but not listed in the index I was using. My experience here taught me how diligent you have to be to find the information you want from the census. The indexes are a wonderful tool, but are not entirely reliable, especially since they rely heavily on the transcriber's ability to read the original writing. Even after I had tried all of the permutations I could think of, it still took months and a lot of browsing before I turned up the right family.
Knowing from census records that Asa Hamlin was a farmer, a farm laborer, and in agriculture (depending on which year you consult) and combining this knowledge with the above information on Torrington Hollow, tells me quite a bit about the family. This is a family who was never wealthy, although they do seem to have gradually moved into the lower middle class.
Once I knew that Lura's parents were Asa and Abigail (Loomis) Hamlin, a lot started falling into place. For one thing, I could make sense of the census records I had to date that listed a Margaret and Asa Hamlin living at various times with the Baker family. Also, I quickly found reference to the Hamlin family in The Descendants by the Female Branches of Joseph Loomis, who came from Braintree, England in the Year 1638 and Settled in Windsor Connecticut in 1639 by Elias Loomis (New Haven: Tuttle Morehouse and Taylor, 1880). The book lists Abigail Loomis (Lura's mother), including her husband and children, and complete ancestry back to Joseph Loomis.
Also, I was able to find a cemetery record from the Newfield Cemetery on Mountain Rd. in Torrington (transcription from the Hale Collection, Dec 1934).
Asa H. died Mar 6, 1872, age 64 years
Hamlin Abigail L., wife of Asa died May 2, 1856, age 50 years"
I was later able to go and see the actual gravestones and take photographs of them:
|Asa Hamlin's Headstone in Newfield Cemetery||Abigail Loomis Hamlin's Headstone|
I wrote away and received Asa Hamlin's death certificate from the very wonderful town clerk in Winchester, Connecticut, which is where the Winsted records are kept. She responded very promptly, sending me a copy of the death certificate, which showed that Asa Hamlin was born about 1807 (based on age) in Somers, CT. She also sent me a copy of the death notice from the March 15, 1872 edition of The Winsted Herald, in which Asa Hamlin is listed as “formerly of Somers, Conn.”
I still had very little doubt that these were Lura's parents and about many of the details of their lives. However, I next wanted to find Asa Hamlin's parents. I started with the one reference that I had that seemed promising. I went to the Barbour Collection for Somers, CT. Unfortunately, this list gleaned nothing of help. A number of Hamlins were listed for Somers, but none with the first name Asa.
The death notice for Asa also says "Illinois papers please copy", which was the cue in those days that residents of Illinois might find this death of interest and so the Illinois papers should also print the death notice. With what I knew about Asa's family, I couldn't make sense of the Illinois reference, so this became another puzzle to solve and a valuable clue. I followed this one almost immediately, tracing Asa's children, since I thought they were most likely to have gone to Illinois. I knew that Lura hadn't, so I started with the other two girls (the ones still living at their father's death). I traced both of them into their marriages, but neither moved to Illinois. I still wasn't sure who Asa knew in Illinois, and didn't have any way of identifying possible family, so I dropped it for a while.
I turned next to census records. Since Asa was born in about 1807, the best census to check would be the 1810 census. Of course, the censuses before 1850 only list the names of the heads of households; they include the children, spouses, other relatives, servants, and others only in the form of hatch marks under the appropriate age and sex categories. To make it even more complicated, the age groupings changed every year. What the census could do, however, was to help me identify which Hamlin families may have lived in Somers, CT at around the time Asa was born and who had young males living in their house.
I came up with several options for the family and started looking at my options. I searched family and local histories for references to Hamlins from Somers. I went to the Connecticut State Library and searched every one of their indexes: Barbour Collection of Connecticut Vital Records, Bible and Family Records Index, Connecticut Census Index 1790-1850, Hale Collection of Newspaper Marriage and Death Notices ca. 1750-1865, Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions, Church Records Index, and Probate Estate Papers Index. I looked at land records and newspapers for the Torrington area. I looked in every book they had on the Torrington and Somers areas and also at all the books on the Hamlin family. I tried looking for information on Asa, and also looking for information on the few Hamlin families that I had identified as possible matches for Asa's parentage. I came up with nothing. Not a single existing reference to Asa Hamlin that would help link him to one of the Somers Hamlin families.
The only lead I had was in a combination of sources. I knew from the History of Torrington that there was an Oliver Hamlin listed as a freeman in 1834 in Torrington, the year before Asa was listed as a freeman. In the Barbour records for Somers, I had also found reference to an Oliver Hamlin, one of two children of John and Lucy that were mentioned:
1825 - 31 Oct, John
Hamlin dies in Somers
1794 - Dec 26, Oliver, s. of John & Lucy born in Somers
1792 - Mar 5, Joseph, s. of John & Lucy born in Somers
1761 - 12 Mar, John born to Nathaniel Hamlin & Rachel Whipple in Somers
Also, there was an Oliver listed as a head of household in 1820 in Somers, who was gone by 1830. He might have died, but I hypothesized that this Oliver had moved to Torrington before the 1830 census, and that he was directly related to Asa. It was a real stretch, especially since 1794 was a long time before 1807, but not quite long enough for me to feel comfortable listing Oliver as a possible father (there is 13 years between the dates). It was possible, though, that Oliver was somehow related to Asa. But how?
As a last resort, I logged onto one of the Connecticut State Library's computers. I surfed to HeritageQuest and did a search of Revolutionary Pension records for one of the Hamlin families I guessed included Asa. It was the John Hamlin family mentioned above that I was searching for. John would have been just 16 or so when the Revolutionary War broke out, given that he was born in 1761 in Somers. However, I was hoping that he might have served in some capacity, and that he might have drawn a pension after the war, and that the pension might mention a son named Asa. It was one of the longest genealogical shots I've ever used. And it worked!
|John Hamlin's Signature|
John Hamlin enlisted from Somers in Capt Blackman's Company for three years in March of 1777. In the spring of 1780, he was discharged, but rejoined about a year later, enlisting in Capt. Samuel Granger's Company in Somers on June 30, 1781. By 1782, he was in Belchertown, Massachusetts (just over the state line from Connecticut). There is a receipt for bounty paid to John Hamlin by Belchertown to serve in the War for three years dated July 9, 1782. He applied for his pension originally in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, though he later moved to Somers, Connecticut.
Had I come across the information above in separate locations, I never would have believed it was the same man. And yet, here is was in his pension records! More valuable than the record of John Hamlin's service, however, was the information about his family. For example, the pension records gave me the following information about John's marriage:
"I Jared Reid of
Belchertown in the County of Hampshire and Commonwealth of
Massachusetts testify and say that I have in my custody the Church
Records of the Congregational Church in said Belchertown, and that it
appears thereby in the hand writing of the late Rev. Justus Forward
that on the thirtieth day of December seventeen hundred and eighty four
John Hamlin and Lucy Barton both of said Belchertown were joined in
marriage by him and I certify that it is a true copy of the record with
the exception of the date which is expressed on the record in fair
legible figures as follows
'1784 Record of Marriage
Decr 30 -- John Hamlin and
Lucy Barton both of Belcher'"
Most valuably for my purposes, the records also list several children of John and Lucy who are not included in the Somers, Connecticut birth records listed in the Barbour records:
"The declarant [John Hamlin] is 59 years of age a day labourer but subject to the dropsy and is otherwise infirm, has a wife aged 50 years & one son aged 13 years, and do [ditto] aged 10 years, and do aged 6 years, and do aged 3 years, all belonging to his family and are named Orin, Asa, Chester, and Ralph all dependent on the declarant for support."
Dropsy is essentially the accumulation of fluid in various organs of the body or under the skin - what is now called edema or swelling if subcutaneous. It is often caused by heart or kidney issues.
The pension records also gave me a flavor of the life led by John Hamlin:
"John Hamlin of Wilbraham in said County... made solemn oath that in the year of our Lord seventeen hundred of seventy seven & during those years thereafter he served as a privated soldier in the American Army of the Continental establishment in the Company of Capt. Elijah Blackman & regiment commander by Col. Henry Sherburne, in the Connecticut line that he entered said service in the Spring of the year aforesaid and was honorably discharged in the Spring of the third year thereafterwards, that the written discharge which he then received was destroyed soon after his return home by washing his pantaloons the pocket of which contained the same; & the said John Hamlin further deposeth & saith that by reason of his reduced circumstances in life he stands in need of assistance from his country." [italics added]
It also includes a list of John Hamlin's property:
|Household furniture, except bedding||$15.00|
At least I could be certain that I hadn't just missed the records of land purchase!
I was able to solve one more puzzle, now that I had more information. Asa Hamlin's death notice referred to Illinois. I also knew from the pension records that Asa's mother had collected her husband's pension from Illinois before her death. Now that I had a more complete list of children of John Hamlin, I was able to conduct a search for Asa's brothers in Illinois. I found several of them in census and other records, including a biography of Asa's brother, John, who was one of the founders of Peoria, Illinois. The History of Peoria Ilinois (Chicago: Johnson & Co. 1880) states this about John's early life:
Hamlin, Hon. Jon (deceased) was born in Hampden county, Mass., October 25, 1800; parents were John and Lucy Hamlin. At the age of nine years he was placed on a farm at work for small wages, and when older went to school, working mornings and evenings for his board. These were the only school advantages he enjoyed, save a Winter at Wallingford Academy, and by this means he obtained a meager English education. His father gave his sons their time from the age of sixteen years. At that age John entered the employ of an older brother, to sell goods from a peddling wagon, at which he spent about three years traveling through the Eastern and Middle States.
I can only imagine that Asa's early life must have been similar to his older brother's.
Clearly, my puzzle hasn't concluded itself. I am still investigating John Hamlin's father, Nathaniel and his mother Rachel Whipple. I haven't had much luck yet, but I haven't been looking long. And, as I've learned from this case, true success takes much patience!