Genealogy Challenge: Research Your Town’s Founding Ladies

Fidelia Merrick Whitcomb Photo from Henry Wells Hand. Centennial History of the Town of Nunda. Rochester, NY: Herald Press, 1908.

My local historical society is preparing for a fall cemetery tour and decided to focus on pioneering women. My city isn’t very old; it was incorporated in 1887. There are old-timers alive today who still remember some of the founders.

Women are often difficult to research as the norm was to be called by their married name. Today I’m focusing on hunting down the identity and story of Mrs. Edward Henry Becket[t], who founded our first hospital.

Sometimes clues are left behind but we don’t recognize them. In my town is an area known as Whitcomb Bayou. I never thought much of who the bayou was named after. A few weeks ago, a visitor to our museum mentioned that it was named after a woman. That intrigued me and I decided to dig further to uncover the story.

Fidelia Jane Merrick Whitcomb (1833-1888) would be considered unconventional even today. Raised in Nunda, Livingston, New York by parents Hiram and Esther Richardson Merrick who believed in educating their daughters as well as their sons, she ultimately became a teacher of elocution. She married Walter Bruce Whitcomb (1828-1898) and the couple had two children – Clara (1852) and Silas (1859). A member of the Universalist Church, Fidelia became involved at the national level where she met other women who were leaders in their own community, like Dr. Mary Safford, a Boston University professor.

Fidelia and her husband, who was a merchant in Nunda, decided to send their children to Boston for a better education. Fidelia accompanied them while Walter remained in New York. It’s likely that Fidelia called upon Mary Safford when she relocated as soon after, Fidelia applied and was accepted to the first Boston University class for female homeopathic physicians. Mary became Fidelia’s mentor.

Fidelia’s daughter Clara married a lawyer, Ernest C. Olney, in Massachusetts. The couple had no children and divorced. Olney remarried and started a family with his second wife, Hattie. Clara remained childless.

Fidelia’s son, Silas who went by the name Merrick, was accepted to Harvard and completed his degree. He married Zettie Stone Fernald and the couple had one child, Eva Fidelia Whitcomb.

Meanwhile, Fidelia returned to live with her husband in Nunda and opened a medical practice in her home.

She retained contact with her friend and mentor, Mary, who had relocated to Tarpon Springs, Florida to serve as a physician. Mary’s brother, Anson P. K. Safford, former territorial governor of Arizona, had been hired by the Butler Company to develop the company’s Florida holdings.

Fidelia soon joined Mary in what I term a travel medicine partnership. The two physicians advertised in medical journals recommending doctors send their ill patients to recuperate in balmy Florida. Fidelia would spend the winter season helping Mary and return to Nunda in the spring to serve her community during the summer months.

Fidelia died on April 1, 1888, in Tarpon Springs. Per her wishes, she was buried in the town’s cemetery, Cycadia. Her husband survived her and is buried in Nunda. Sadly, there is no gravestone for Fidelia. Her obituary in the Nunda newspaper reported that if she had been buried there, she would have had a large memorial.

My local historical society wants to have a stone erected on Fidelia’s grave but by city requirements, the permission of a descendant must be given. I traced grandchild Eva and discovered she had two children, Louise and Elizabeth, with her first husband, Reginald Worthington. Eva, like her Aunt Clara, divorced. She remarried William Cordon Walton but they had no children.

Eva’s daughter, Louise, married a Harry K. Tucker in Pennsylvania where the family had relocated but the marriage did not last. By 1940, Louise was living with her mother and step-father. The US census reports she was married but she was using her maiden name. She died in 1954; her death certificate stated she was married but her husband’s name did not appear on the form. The couple likely had no children.

Louise’s sister, Elizabeth, married a Mr. Hay[e]s about 1974 when she was 56. It is likely they had no children.

It appears that Fidelia Merrick Whitcomb has no living direct descendants. I haven’t traced her sibling’s children; it looks like there is some family alive today through those lines.

As for the headstone, it’s up to the city to decide.

Regardless of the decision, Fidelia has not been forgotten. We’ll be honoring her in October and every time I pass the bayou named for her I’ll think about her.

This spring, do some digging into your town’s past. An amazing story just might be waiting to be uncovered.

New Genealogy Tips and Tricks

Courtesy of Thinking of you, Ukraine!

I’ve been Spring Cleaning so I’m a tad late on posting today. I’m really supposed to be in a local genealogy society’s Zoom meeting but they are having tech issues so I decided to blog while I wait to be let in.

I’m excited to write that I have FINALLY finished scanning my older genealogy collection from my family. I had so much dust, bits of dried brown paper, even glitter from old greeting cards around that I spent the last week plus majorly cleaning. Amazing how those documents permeated nooks and crannies throughout my home!

After I get the outside pressure washed, my favorite job, I decided to scan additional documents, such as medical records, too. I’d like to go as paperless as possible going forward.

Here is some new genealogy news you might find interesting:

ROOTSTECH may be over but if you attended, you should be getting an email notification of your “cousins” that also logged on for the conference. Follow the link (which expires on March 25th) and then click “Roots Tech Relatives.” My relative number is 8,944 – those would be the people who also have a tree that matches the people I have in my tree. A map appears and you can click to see folks from your area and be able to contact them if you like. Another alternative is to scroll down the page and click in the Surname box – adding a surname you are interested in connecting with. The default is your current surname and if it’s like mine, Samuelson, is not going to find you much. There are loads of Samuelsons that aren’t related to us because of Swedish naming patterns. I plugged in my top 3 family surnames – Koss, Leininger, and Landfair and discovered that there were 5 Leiningers in attendance but no one with the other two names.

Have New York City families? Then you’ll love the fact that the vital records are 70% digitized and available for FREE. Check out the link. A list of all available records can be found here. continues to improve its site. If you love timelines, you’ll enjoy their new color-coded ones with graphics. This blog article will explain it.

I’m not sure how I feel about their new Live Story which is a tool for you to make animated videos of your ancestors telling their stories. Personally, it’s a little too creepy for me but if you are into AI and liked Deep Nostalgia, this is definitely for you. Try it out here.

On the more traditional genealogy path, has increased its French records by adding Filae’s family trees. That 269 million! Read about it here and there is a link in the article to start researching the records.

Sigh, so many records, so little time. Have a wonderful week searching!

Family Historians Must Talk About the Memories

John Leininger State Line House. Photo courtesy of Robert LeRoy Leininger. Leininger Family History and Genealogy, Columbia City, IN: Self Published, p. 4.

Today’s blog wasn’t my intended topic but as the week evolved, I felt the need to write about recent laws in my state (and maybe yours!) that matter to family historians and genealogists.

Long-time readers know my first career was as an educator; I retired as a Public School Counselor last August. My paternal grandmother taught briefly in Ohio before her marriage. My husband is also a retired educator. His great grandfather was a lifelong teacher and principal in rural Indiana. Although not educators, my Leininger line certainly valued education as they built their house across the Indiana-Ohio state line for the purpose of being able to have a choice option of where to send their children to school. Even back in the day school funding was problematic so when one district had cuts, they simply moved their belongings to the other side of the house and enrolled in the other school district. A novel way to ensure their children were well educated.

I am in favor of the community having a voice in schools and that schools are critical for a region’s future success.

This week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that affect schools. The first allows parents to sue teachers if school personnel “instructs” a student in third grade or under on sexual orientation. On the surface, you might think that discussion isn’t age-appropriate. Children notice EVERYTHING and they ask for information when they don’t understand something. What is a teacher supposed to say when a kid asks why does Jack has two mommies or two daddies? I always replied, “Because each family is different which is what makes them so special.” I can see that today, a parent with an agenda might take that statement to the court.

Here’s why I gave that reply to my elementary students . . . When I was their age I was the only child with divorced parents in my parochial school. Not until I was in 6th grade did another child with divorced parents enroll. Pre-Vatican II divorce was a serious offense by Roman Catholic Church standards. We learned that in religion class. I was penalized because my father never came to school functions – the PTA awarded points for parents who attended monthly meetings. Moms got 1 point and dad’s got 5 points. A dad only had to show up once a year and the mom every other meeting to exceed my mother’s perfect attendance number. In May, any student who had parent participation above a certain number would get an ice cream treat. I never got one.

Those were painful times. I thought the world had changed towards acceptance of differences but in my state, we’re slipping backward. Instead, the governor embarrased responsible high school students because their belief system is different than his. But that’s not all that’s happening in Florida.

Teacher training on diversity is being canceled and teacher lessons that imply someone is responsible for actions “committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” that makes a student feel uncomfortable is forbidden. Again, parents can sue the teacher for the lesson. Here’s my problem with this. I’ve blogged about the KKK targeting my maternal grandparents. I’m white and obviously, the KKK hoodlums were white. A parent not liking my lesson or blog can sue me for telling the truth about the past! The law doesn’t protect the victims but the perpetrators. My mother’s trauma as a child enduring the long night she thought she would die is irrelevant in Florida because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of a white child today whose ancestor may have been responsible.

My family is far from perfect and I’ve written about my own ancestor, Daniel Hollingshead, who upped his social standing at the expense of others. I’m not proud to have an ancestor who was complicit and tolerant of his second wife who had inherited enslaved people.

We must remember the past, the good, the bad, and the ugly, or we haven’t learned the lessons. Suing is not the way to deal with uncomfortable topics. My former school district has had nearly 9% of its teachers resign in the past year. How many more will be driven out because they can no longer speak the truth?

Weekly I volunteer at my local train depot museum. The building has two doors; built-in 1909 the law was Separate but Equal. The title of the law was half correct – the facility was separated by race but it was anything but equal. People of color had to share one small restroom while white people had larger, separate facilities. Whites had heat on their side of the wall and a larger ticket window. Their space was also much larger. Equal? Nope! Unbelievably, the building remained separated until Amtrack shut it down in the late 1970s. The law may have been off the books but its effect lingered much longer.

That’s not the only place the law lingered. As a teen, I worked for the City of St. Petersburg. In City Hall was a racist mural and the water coolers had painted above “whites” and “colored.” I had learned about Jim Crow laws in U.S. History class in the north but it never occurred to me that a visible reminder remained in my lifetime. When I questioned it of my director, her response was “You’re a carpetbagger; you wouldn’t understand.” She was entirely correct. I’ve lived in my county for 50 years and I still don’t understand people refusing to accept differences and acknowledge the mistakes of the past.

If the schools aren’t going to be able to do the job then we, as the remembers, must step up and speak out. I’d be interested to know how you take on the challenge.

Rootstech 2022-Last Day!

Photo courtesy of Family Search

Fear not, you haven’t missed Rootstech, the online FREE conference. Today is the last day and you can sign in to attend here.

If you are short of time and can’t attend lectures, don’t worry. The 1,000 talks will be available on YouTube. I know that I missed a keynote I had wanted to hear due to a commitment and plan to catch up on that soon.

I highly recommend, if you have only limited time today, to definitely check out the Expo Hall. Organizations, start-up companies, and well-known businesses are available at a virtual booth. Many offer discounts. Visit 20 and you can enter a Priceline drawing for a family trip.

Have a tree on Then you might want to click the Find Relatives section of the event. Your tree is compared with other attendees who have their tree on the site. When an individual is matched, you and your kin can send each other a message. Last year I conversed with a Landfair descendant who lived not too far from me. This year, I found a second Leininger cousin. Who knows what absolute goodness that relative may have for you genealogically in their attic, basement or brain!