Welcome to my genealogy blog. Ancestors I Wish I Knew is a combination of genealogical information and stories about individuals in my family tree. The focus is on those from my Cochrane, Eitelbach, Merrett, Minarcik and Richards lines and their descendants.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#84--William Cochrane--Help Me Decide What to Do with this Sofa

When working on my family tree, I am always so delighted when I find something out purely by accident, and even more delighted when it clarified or adds to what I know. I had that happen last week.  I was searching on the Brooklyn Historic Society’s webpage and noticed that online they had a newspaper entitled the Brooklyn Evening Star, a paper I had never heard of. Since it was searchable, I tried a couple of names from my Richards line with no results.  Then I switched to my Cochrane line, using William Cochrane.

William Cochrane is my great great grandfather. He was born in London England in 1810 and came to the United States about 1833 or 34. Originally he and his family settled in Buffalo, New York, and then Rochester, New York. Sometime in the 1850’s, he moved his family to Brooklyn. The census for 1840 and 1850 listed his occupation as upholster. So I thought I understood what he did—he put material on furniture.  That is, until I saw the search results from the Brooklyn Evening Star.  I found  two different ads.

The one from 1855 states that he and John Willens were in business together at 106 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.  They offered a variety of services:  upholstery, rug cutting, paper hanging, curtain and drapery making as well as mattresses. The second ad from 1857 shows that William Cochrane was now in business for himself. He offered the same services, but indicated that all the work was done under his supervision.  So I assume that he had men working for him.

Being a curious person, I googled the word upholsterer and learned that in England in the 1700 and 1800’s, upholsterers often were in charge of decorating entire rooms, not covering the furniture. That certainly fits with his advertisements I found.

Several years ago, my cousin, Alice, gave me pictures of William Cochrane’s living room on Fort Greene Place, in Brooklyn.  Thanks to Photoshop Elements, I was able to lighted them up and was better able to see all the details.

If I were able to talk to William Cochrane about his work, I would want to ask how he learned to be an interior decorator, what was his favorite decorating style, and why decided to move his business to Brooklyn.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

# 83--"The Daring Young Man on the Trapeze"

I  am always interested in what my ancestors did during their lives.  When it comes to making a living, typically men were farming or running a businesses, and women were housewives.  So when I find someone who is not doing one of those things, it is a real surprise.  That was the case with my great, great uncle, James Willey,  at least that was the way he was in the census records when he was a child.  In the documents that I have from my great aunt, his name is James Montania Singuior Willey.  I always thought that was a pretty unusual name to give a child, particularly since his siblings did not have such long or fancy names.

One of the joys of genealogy is to work with other people who are related to you.  In May two of my cousins, Anna and Pam, and I decided it was time to research the men in the Willey family, specifically, James, George, Richard and Samuel.  We had no trouble finding documented facts about George, Richard, and Samuel, but James disappeared.  There was no information that we could find about him.  One of our hypotheses was that he had died or moved to a foreign county.  So imagine my delight to get an e-mail from Anna with the Heading “I have found James Willey.”  While looking at the census for the nephew of James Willey, listed was the name Sig.  Montanio.  That sounded rather like our James Willey so Anna checked the person’s birth information and that of the parents and they matched our James Willey exactly.  Most interesting was his occupation—he definitely was more than a farmer—his occupation was listed as “farmer and showman.“

So once we had a lead about James Willey new name, we went to work.  Collectively, we look at various records on Ancestry and Family Search, searched the newspapers in Chronicling America and newpapers.com, and googled Sig. Montanio.

So what did we find?  First of all, he married Josephine Greenwald (aka Greenwalt or Greenwaldt or Grunwald or Greenevault), in Sheridan, Huron, Michigan in May 1877. James and Josephine had four children:  Harry (1877-1947), James “Perry” (1880-1952), Minnie E. (1887-1950) and Charlotte M. (1889-1949). Most surprising was his profession listed on their marriage license:  “circus performer.”

  So we assumed that for performing he changed his name.  I do think that Sig.  Montanio sounds much more exotic than James Willey.  According to the newspaper articles, James or Sig. Montanio performed as an acrobat, trapeze artist and high wire walker.  And from looking at the newspaper articles, he was very good.  Performing was a family affair.  His wife had a musical act and played the banjo while his two sons also performed, sometimes as clowns and other times as acrobats.  His two daughter, Minnie and Lottie do not seem to have ever performed in the circus.

In addition to performing, over the years, James ran several circuses - Montanio's Great New York Show; Montanio's Mexican Show, etc - To see more information on the Montanio circus act, you can go to   Circus History   and search under "M."  From a timeline that Anna put together from newspaper articles about the shows, it appears that James and his family were involved in the circus world until 1898.

We have not been able to find James “Sig. Montanio” in the 1900 census. However, he does appear in the 1910 census in Crook National Forest, Gila, Arizona.  He is listed as a widow and as a rancher.  James died on November 8, 1918 in Pinal County, Arizona.  According to the local newspaper, he was camping, became sick and froze to death while returning to town, probably to seek treatment for his illness.

While I always have questions, I would like to ask my ancestors, but in this case I would have lots of questions.  First, I would like to know when, why and how he joined the circus.  Then I would like to find out when and why he left.  I also would like some clarification about what he did after he left the circus—did he always ranch or have another occupation.