Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Mystery of Albert Murray, Sr--Or, Who the heck is Erastus?

So, now a post about actual research on my genealogy.

I started on our Murray line about a year ago.  I began with my grandfather, Riley Murray, Sr,  who was born June 21, 1895 in Cameron County, PA and lived there his whole life.  His father, Albert Murray, was born March 3, 1856 and married Katharine Doll on July 3, 1882.  I had the names of all their children, but as to earlier information, I had my grandmother’s memory as a reference. 

My grandmother’s notes said essentially this:  The Murrays came from Ireland and settled near Rochester, NY where Albert  senior was a prison guard.  Albert and his wife, Mary, had the following children:  Mary, Lucetta, Richard, Hopkins, Stanford, Albert, and Asa.  Mary died at Albert Jr’s birth in Syracuse, NY.  Albert Sr, died when Albert Jr was seven, and all the children were put in a Catholic orphanage to be raised.   From there Albert Jr was sent to a Catholic foster home.  And, beyond a few additional tidbits from other relatives, that was it.

As a novice to genealogical research, I wasn’t sure where to begin so went to the internet for census research.  My great-grandfather, Albert Murray, Jr, and his family were easily found in 1900 in Emporium, PA.  But when I started to go back further I was quickly overwhelmed.  I didn’t yet know of many reference options and I didn’t understand how to review search results with spelling variations in mind.  I searched and searched for Albert Murray, Sr, wife Mary and their family.  I pursued the possibility of orphanages but that seemed like a bottomless well.  I then decided to focus on prisons in New York, keeping the locales of Rochester and Syracuse in mind.   An internet search uncovered the history of a new, state-of-the-art prison built in the early 1800’s in Auburn, NY.  Bingo!  When I added Auburn to my search requirements, I found Albert, Jr in the 1860 census.  But, he was not in an orphanage, he was with his siblings, minus Asa, living with adults by the name of Erastus and Loretta Murry.  There was also another brother, George, I had never heard of.

So, who were Erastus and Loretta?  Foster parents?  Relatives?  How would I find out?  The next Eureka moment resulted from another internet search.  I turned up what seemed to me to be a rather obscure site, Old Fulton NY Post Cards.  However, a newspaper article I found there referenced the appointment of Erastus Murray as a gatekeeper at Auburn Prison in 1860.  The seed of doubt was planted and I became obsessed with uncovering the mystery of Albert Sr and Erastus.  



Then another clue through an internet search engine--an Auburn area 1856 burial record at Throopsville Rural Cemetery for Christina Murray, age 32, wife of Erastus.  Thus a second seed of doubt, after all Albert Jr was born in 1856, his mother supposedly dying at his birth.  Could Christina actually be Albert’s mother? And Erastus his father?

With these new pieces of information I decided to target Erastus and Christina, moving away from Loretta and much further away from where I had started with Albert Sr and Mary.  What a surprise when I found Erastus and Christina in the 1850 census, with all of Albert’s siblings who were born before 1850, and then with the help of the Cayuga County Historian’s office, again in the 1855 NY census.  I found Erastus, in the Auburn City Directory as a laborer, then as a soldier in Civil War records, and later in census records living as a farmhand, without his family, well into his senior years, and in a newspaper record of his death at a poorhouse in Rose, NY in 1895.

I still didn’t know anything but the most basic information provided in census records about where and when Erastus and Christina were born.  All indications from census records are that the entire family had been born in Cayuga County, NY.  There has been no sign of an Albert, Sr or wife Mary and son, Asa, although there was a daughter, Mary, who married an Asa (Van Patten).  I still didn’t know who Loretta and George were, but I am guessing that she was a second wife and that the son George was a half-brother.  And I didn’t know what happened to the family after 1860, but it appears Erastus deserted the family or the family otherwise fell on hard times.

I found out a lot and learned early the importance of using sources to verify (or invalidate) family stories. I still have a lot of work to do on the Murrays, but after pounding the internet in every way I could think of, I took a break to research another line.   But, the mystery, the puzzle, the clues, the history lessons, the surprising discovery…it’s just plain addictive.

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