One of the real joys of genealogy blogging is the unexpected connection it frequently establishes with living people - often unrelated - but with research interests that intersect with parts of my family history. One such connection happened yesterday, when I received an e-mail from an 11th grade AP history student in Philadelphia who is embarking on an extensive research project documenting everything that can be found in primary sources about individuals buried during the Victorian era in one of their city's churchyards. She and three of her classmates selected the grave of Henry Charles Olmsted, my Gr-gr-great uncle, and in the course of her on-line investigations she found this blog and contacted me.
Henry Charles Olmsted was the younger brother of my direct ancestor William Nisbet Olmsted and I knew immediately who he was although was less certain where to locate the obituaries and newspaper clippings I was certain were contained within our family archive. It also caused me to remember a similar query I received a year ago at this time about the maternal grandparents of these brothers, Michael Nisbet and Clarissa Cohen from someone who had taken on the task of transcribing the baptismal records from Christ Church in Philadelphia from the 1780s through the 1840s. As I keep virtually all of my e-mail, I was able to retrieve those messages and add them to the growing list of leads I started to develop for the AP students.
This afternoon I hit gold in the most fragile part of the family record: the brittle and yellowed scrapbooks - one of them a Mark Twain patent - kept by my gr-great grandmother Mary Athalia Stearns and her daughter Margaret Stearns Olmsted. My Great Aunt Margie once pulled them off a lower shelf in her Upper East Side apartment to show me when I spent the weekend with her in New York during college, so when her effects were being boxed I was able to recall their location and make sure they were included in her genealogy archive. I am very glad I did, for there is information included upon these crumbling, glue-stained pages and within the busted scrapbook spines that is unavailable elsewhere. I rarely burrow to the bottom of the container that holds these scrapbooks, as they fall apart at the touch and are the devil and all to conserve from further damage unless left in situ.
Nonetheless I found what I was sure was the right volume and sure enough, there was a page with half a dozen obituaries for Henry Charles Olmsted from February, 1893, when this unfortunate lawyer and rising star in Democratic political circles slipped on the ice and was confined for several weeks to bed, only to die of pneumonia.
I do not know whether he had any interest in his family history, but as he died without issue, his Uncle Henry Morse Olmsted passed along his genealogical papers to my great-grandmother and her brother Ned Olmsted, which in time came to my Great Aunt Margie, and so in 2003 to me. I had not read all the material relating to Henry C. Olmsted in our papers before this query, and am very glad to have had the prompt to do so. In the process, I not only rediscovered a collateral ancestor, but found a photograph of his grandmother Clarissa (Cohen) Nisbet (1792-1867) which I had failed to note in previous forays into the family archive. Her husband Michael Nisbet, above, held high masonic office in the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and I located this portrait of him on-line in the historic collections of that organization. Alas, I have not found a picture yet of Henry Charles Olmsted in our files, but will keep looking. Like genealogy itself, our family archive is a never ending source of surprises.
I am sure that some of this information will be helpful to the AP students in Philadelphia, but their inquiry has most assuredly been of excellent service to me.