Sunday, July 22, 2012

On The Fritts - or, Ode to a Brick Wall, Part 2

Note: This post was originally published on my companion blog, Desperado Penguin, on May 15, 2011.

It's a hard thing to abandon a line of research without an answer, especially when one has so many tantalizing clues; specifically, I have Susan Fritts's parents names - but I can't work out exactly which John and Mary Fritts they were. I've effectively run out of ideas on what to search, and I've gone in so many circles and smacked my forehead against this brick wall so many times, that even say for sure what I know and what I don't know about Uriah and Susan anymore. I gave up and resumed working on other lines.

Over at the family history center, I ran across an odd situation: I requested a microfilm, but they inform me that the film is "restricted," meaning that I have to go to the main library in Salt Lake City to view it. As luck would have it, my DAR chapter has a professional genealogist who makes regular trips to that library, so I shoot Janice an email inquiring if she can look up this one document for me. Since I'm writing to her, I mention that I have this brick wall that I'm stuck on, and explain the situation, and inquire if she has any ideas. She explains that there are reasons Susan might have been left out of the will of that Otsego John Fritts - maybe she was given money before she moved, for example. I pull out my entire Fritts file and mail her a copy of it. She reviews it.

She thinks that my first instinct was correct: The John Fritts who lived in Sempronius in 1830 and 1840 was my Susan's father. She comes up with a birth date of about 1770 for John based on those two censuses - meaning that the will I have for a John Fritts of Cayuga County, who died in 1869 with no children, could not possibly be the same man.

How did I overlook that?

She's hired. I'm energized!

I have some time before Janice actually goes to Salt Lake City, so I go back over some of the things I know about "R" and "E" Fritts, because I have long realized they might be helpful, but have never quite seen the connection or known what to do about it. I locate reference to Edward Fritts in a DAR GRC record, so I write away and it arrives just before she leaves: The 1815 baptism record for Edward Fritts in Milford, NY - son of John and Mary Fritts. Edward Fritts, who arrived in Sheboygan a year before Uriah and Susan, and according to the 1850 census. Edward, who lives right near John Fritts on the 1840 census in Sempronius, Cayuga Co., NY.

Janice heads off to Salt Lake and begins reviewing land records, church books, will indexes, but she, too, is confounded: Where was John before Cayuga County? Which John Fritts is he? She thinks perhaps it is the John Fritts who lived near Henry Couse and John Couse in Delaware County in 1820, and even retrieves a land record for John and Mary Fritts of Milford in 1815 - significant because we know that our John and Mary were in Milford, baptizing son Edward that year. But how is it possible this John Fritts owned land in 1815 - rather valuable land according to the deed - and yet there are no land records for him in Cayuga, and he left no will? It is oddly consoling that my Frittses have managed to confound not only me, but also a professional.

I feel like I've got a good solid lead, even if it doesn't entirely make sense, and as I'm uploading everything to a file sharing site to show my cousin Linda, who beat her head against this wall in similar fashion for many years, I run across some news articles that Linda had located over a year ago, for John and Mary Fritts - specifically, that they defaulted on a mortgage for a property in Milford, purchased in 1813, and that the property was to be sold at auction.

Legal announcement from 1817 Otsego Newspaper,
announcing John and Mary Fritts' property is to be sold at auction.

And a light bulb goes off. I email the articles to Janice, who replies, "Aha!" Because what I have is a series of notices for John and Mary Fritts - showing where they lived over a ten-year period in between censuses. I also know from the deed that on this piece of property, John Fritts had a tannery.

Janice suggests I read Dorothy Kubik's A Free Soil - A Free People, about the Anti-Rent War in Delaware County, New York, which I promptly ordered and am currently reading. Already I've discovered a few things: apparently the abuses by large landholders in that part of New York at that time were considerable - one could own a property but still be required to pay rent on it for one thing; for another, the original landholder retained mineral and water rights, sometimes denying the purchaser water access necessary for, say, a tannery. It's a fascinating and rather sad bit of American history that I was certainly unaware of.

It's a funny thing when you really nail it with a link in a genealogical chain: all the pieces suddenly fit together in a way that makes a person suddenly come alive. I know this John Fritts, or at least I know the second part of his life, when he was raising Susan, was quite an unhappy struggle. I have a glimpse into Susan's childhood.

And I have some ideas about where to look now, to fill in the missing pieces.

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