Perna Gaskill, 1886
Both my maternal grandparents died before I was born. Maybe that’s why so much information was lost on that side. My maternal grandmother was Perna Mae Gaskill, born in 1884 in Emporium, PA. We share middle names. I’m sure Pernie was a fascinating woman, but I will be forever grateful my parents had the foresight not to give me her first name. Although I never met her, in my mind she is the relative I imagine I am most like. Some of it is just coincidence--Perna took over the family publishing and printing business after her husband died when she was 52. I retired recently from a career in the printing industry. My grandfather suffered from "sick headaches", which we now call migraines. My husband is debilitated by them. Some of it could be genetic, I suppose--Perna was Independent-minded (which I think I am, or stubborn, depending on who you ask). She was an early proponent of Planned Parenthood and birth control and was an avid admirer of Margaret Sanger. It was as controversial then as it has become now, though it surely was harder then for a woman to be outspoken. (In the US, women didn't have the right to vote until Perna was 26.) As I would learn during my research, the Gaskills have a history of speaking out and standing up for their beliefs, but we’ll get to that in due time.
My great-grandfather, Everett Gaskill, born in 1845, died in 1916 before my mother was born, so yet another gap where some history was lost. My mom had heard he was a drummer boy during the Civil War, but knew nothing else of his life or family, not even where he was from. I was able to confirm he was a Private in the 15th Regiment of the New York Engineers from January 30, 1865 to June 13, 1865 and the census records led me from Pennsylvania to New York.
The census research census research helped me find his parents, James and Elizabeth Gaskill in Tioga, NY. I also found some amusing census records in 1870 where Everett became Ever Ettie the housekeeper. But the census wouldn’t help me find James’ parents because it meant going to 1840 or earlier and therefore had head-of-household names to review. So I started my mad Googling of the name Gaskill and Tioga, New York. I turned up the 1785-1888 Historical Gazetteer of Tioga County, NY. I found a town by the name of Gaskill’s Corners, NY and I found listings of a Silas Gaskill and sons Joseph, Wilder, and Uriah.
Those names provided just the fuel I needed to continue. Apparently the Gaskills married into some prominent New England families and I found a treasure trove of historical reference books and genealogical family histories. It sure looked like James’ parents were Wilder Gaskill and Mary Studwell, but I was somewhat reluctant to accept these histories without more evidence. Eventually, with the help of the Tioga, NY Historical Society, I recently received more information, including a copy of Wilder’s will. James was there, so now I had a document with the link to Wilder.
Moving backward in time from James, much research had been done, but there were stories along the way which I found interesting—the little glimpses into the past that make the names and dates all real. In 1789, Wilder had moved to New York from Richmond, NH, along with his father, Silas and his brothers, Joseph and Uriah. They were early settlers in Tioga, NY and were involved in governing the community. In 1800, Silas and Wilder were both elected pathmasters (responsible for keeping the trails clear) in Tioga. And while in Tioga, Silas and Wilder witnessed what was probably a meteor. Meteors were not well-known phenomena until the middle of the 19th century. This sighting came at a time when scientists were challenging previously accepted explanations for what we now commonly call shooting stars. In a sign of the impact of the Age of Enlightenment, the author of the newspaper article looked to science rather than superstition for the explanation:
Tomorrow: GASKILL-The earlier years, New England