Our Family Tree – Every Life Tells a Story

My last blog entry carried my genealogy findings from as far back as fourteen generations to Holland and discovered the actual first ancestor who left Holland in 1633 and settled in Fort Orange, New Netherland.  From that point, his descendants are documented and I was able to link my great-great-grandfather, Garrett Van Schaick, to his earlier grandparents, etc.

This blog is about taking my recent family relatives by generation and working backwards to meet the Van Schaick family I wondered so much about growing up.  I now know why I couldn’t uncover any cemetary records for Garrett, his wife Hannah Van Schaick or their parents in Rensselaer County, New York on July 6, 2002.  They didn’t live there since 1852–or earlier.

Studying names and dates and piecing together a patchwork quilt of trivia about one’s family brings them more true to life somehow.  Even though I never knew them or only glimpsed their images through faded photographs, their lives tell a story.  Within me is a growing curiousity to understand the reasons they moved and feel sorrow to learn of children’s deaths.

Let me start with my mother, Mildred Zollars.  She was born in 1916 and grew up in Bratenahl, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland).  She was the middle child of two brothers.  Her older brother, Harry Zollars and his wife lost a son to polio in the early 1950s.  He was only four years old when he died.

Mildred’s parents were Vera Ellsworth Zollars and Warren Zollars–my grandparents.  After having three children, they were blessed with a fourth, another daughter.  Edna was born in 1926 and died of pneumonia at six months old.

Vera’s parents were Elsie Van Schaick Ellsworth and Frank Ellsworth–my great-grandparents.  They had four daughters.  As a child, my grandmother mentioned having a baby brother, Clarence Ellsworth, who died either as an infant or very early in childhood.  I’ve not been able to find any record of his existence.

In the 1930 US Census records, Elsie Ellsworth is listed as living with Vera and Warren in their home as a widow.  Frank Ellsworth died in 1928.  Vera was eighteen years older than her youngest sister, Elsie Ellsworth, born in 1907.  In the 1920 US Census, she lived with Vera and Warren in their home.  As a young girl of twelve or thirteen, I wonder what circumstances led her to live with her married sister and not her parents?  Great-grandmother Elsie was 40 or 41 years old when her youngest daughter was born–odd circumstances in the early twentieth century.  It’s still a big deal today if a woman gives birth after forty, imagine going through that around the turn of the century!

My grandmother Vera would remember her grandfather, Garrett Van Schaick.  She was born in 1889.  According to the 1900 US Census, Garrett Van Schaick was a 79 year old widower who lived with his youngest daughter, Elsie Ellsworth, in Ohio. He died in 1902 when Vera was thirteen.

My grandmother kept his obituary newspaper clipping in her house in a drawer in the living room of her house in Bratenahl.  I used to read it, very young, and thought his name was the most unusual and remarkable name I’d ever heard!  Garrett Van Schaick–I loved speaking his name.  I think that’s why I was so interested in knowing about him as I grew up.  Having a copy of his daughter’s recollections about the Dutch side of his family gave it more energy and meaning.

So I went looking for him–in New York.  What I didn’t know then that I know now are some very different facts than what I imagined all these years.  Yes, he and the majority of his twelve siblings were born around Albany, New York in the early half of the 1800s; the others were born in the same state.  As he grew up, he apparently moved around quite a bit with his parents and family.

I’m not certain when they married (March 18th, 18xx), but Garrett and Hannah Watkins Van Schaick had six children.  The two oldest were sons and the four others were daughters.  The youngest, my great-grandmother, recorded her immediate family and penned some tragic facts.

William Van Schaick  1847-1915                                                                                                Alonzo Van Schaick 1849-1890                                                                                                    Euphemia Van Schaick (she died of scarlet fever at 10 years old) 1852-1863                                                                                                                                                                                                        Ella Van Schaick 1857-18??                                                                                                           Anna Van Schaick 1861-18??                                                                                                         (both girls died on August 15th. Anna in the morning and Ella in the evening–not mentioned was cause of death or their   ages.)

Elsie Van Schaick 1866-1956

Not only did Garrett outlive his wife, Hannah,  by seventeen years; he also outlived four of his six children.

I did find Garrett’s brother’s last will and testament at the Rensselaer Historical Society in Troy, New York.  William Van Schaick, Jr. died May 21, 1852 in Troy, New York. His older brother, Cornelius Van Schaick was executor of the will in Surrogate’s Court.  William died without surviving widow or children.  The will then lists remaining heirs–both parents and his siblings as follows:

Jacob Van Schaick of Brunswick, NY, Jeremiah Van Schaick of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Garrett Van Schaick of the same place, Mary Alicia Van Schaick of the same place, Elizabeth Van Schaick of the same place, Jane Van Schaick of the same place & Stephen Henry Van Schaick of the same place.

In light of new-found information, I now believe the wording of this will states that the Van Schaick parents and siblings also lived with Jeremiah in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1852.  All this time, I thought Garrett and his brothers and sisters married and settled around Albany, New York.  Yes, seven of the twelve children were born in Renssealaer county, and they were all born in the state of New York.

I have a copy of the 1850 US Census record that blows my theory out of the water.  Trying for  quite a while to track down Garrett Van Schaick proved futile–until I targeted the younger brother who moved west to Wisconsin.  Why couldn’t I find any cemetary records for my Van Schaick ancestors?  They did NOT live in Rensselaer County, New York and they did NOT die there.  The oldest brother, Jacob, is listed as living in the region when William, Jr died in 1852 and Cornelius lived there also to be executor of the will.

According to the 1850 US Census, in the household of  one Jeremiah Van Schaick of Mukwonago, Waukesha, Wisconsin the members are listed:

Wm Van Schaick, age 65 (Father)                                                                                              Eunice Van Schaick, age 58 (Mother)                                                                                              Wm Van Schaick, age 28 (He returned to Troy, NY by 1852)                                                    Garrett Van Schaick, age 27 (my great-great-grandfather)                                                     Jeremiah Van Schaick, age 25                                                                                                  Harriet (Henrietta?) Van Schaick, age 24                                                                                  Mary Van Schaick, age 21

I study this 1850 report and have a question–if Garrett lived in Wisconsin with his parents and four of his siblings–WHERE were Hannah, his wife, and his two children?

The occupation given for Jeremiah and his father is ‘farmers”.  When they moved to Wisconsin, did they own land and farmed? I found a “Henry Van Schaick” in the 1880 US Census, also living in Wisconsin.  Born around 1816 and lists himself and both parents’ birthplace as New York.  Could this be the older brother?

A lot can happen in ten years.  Between the 1850 and 1860 US Census, I noted the following facts about Garrett Van Schaick and his family.

William Van Schaick, Jr left Wisconsin after 1850 and moved back to Troy, New York. If he was 28 in 1850, then he died as a young man around 30 years of age–without a wife or children.

Their mother, Eunice Van Buren Van Schaick died in 1854. ( 1850 Census doesn’t agree with Elsie Ellsworth’s notes.  She wrote, “Gran Van–was 59 when she died. If 58 in 1850, Eunice would have been 62 four years later?)

Garrett and Hannah Van Schaick lived in New York before 1850 and had their first two sons in that state.

William Van Schaick b. 1847 in New York                                                                                Alonzo Van Schaick b. 1849 in New York

At some point after 1850, when Garrett shows up in the 1850 Wisconsin US Census recording and after the May, 1852 death of his older brother, William Van Schaick, Jr., Garrett and Hannah moved to Ohio.

In the 1860 US Census, Garrett Van Schaick is listed as head of household and lives in Independence, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  His occupation is “carpenter”.

Garrett Van Schaick, age 38                                                                                                              Hannah Van Schaick, age 35                                                                                                                Wm Van Schaick, age 13                                                                                                                      Alonzo Van Schaick, age 11                                                                                                              Euphemia Van Schaick, age 7                                                                                                                 Ella Van Schaick, age 3

The two youngest daughters have yet to be born.   Euphemia’s birthdate is August 28, 1852, which was three months after the death of William, Jr. I can’t prove the family lived in Rensselaer County, New York in 1852, but sometime after 1849, they moved out of state.  The 1860 US Census notes that Euphemia and Ella were born in Ohio.

So that means my great-grandmother, Elsie Van Schaick, was born in Ohio in 1866.  I calculated the birthdates of their family.  Seems to be a gap between Anna (1861) and  Elsie(1866).  Also noted was Hannah being eight months pregnant when Civil War was declared in the United States. Anna was born on May 17, 1861.  Then there’s a five year gap between Anna and Elsie.  I’m still trying to determine if Garrett was a Union soldier in any Civil War battles (1861-1865).

The other interesting fact is that Elsie’s mother was around 40-41 when she had her youngest child.  To be forty in the 1860s and still having babies!  Like mother–like daughter!

There’s still so much to learn about those generations.  I have a document regarding William Van Schaick, Sr.  He died at Arcadia, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin in 1870, aged 87.  Garrett Van Schaick died at Bedford, Cuyahoga County, Ohio in 1902, aged 82.

That’s why I found very little information on my family tree in Rensselaer County, New York.  They died and were buried in Ohio and Wisconsin cemetaries.  Their last wills and testaments are in courthouse archives in those states.  Which seems amazing to me now, when I pause to think about it, how fortunate I was to discover the will of one of Garrett’s brothers, who happened to die in the “old homeland” of his Dutch ancestors.

Amazing luck!

The Van Schaick name is fairly common, especially in the Albany and eastern New York area.  Not only did I do some digging to glean information on Garrett Van Schaick and his family, I uncovered more details about his brothers and their lives.

Which leads me to tell about the “black sheep” in our family tree. If notoriety makes for a colorful addition to family history, then we have a distant relative with a tragic event in his life.  I came across his name when I Googled  “Van Schaick-New York”.  I went to the link and read about one William Van Schaick and what happened in New York City in 1904.

It was a tragedy of epic proportions.  There are many articles of this event on the Web. www.brimstonevs.comEncyclopedia/VanSchaick.html

William Van Schaick was Captain of a side-paddle wheel boat that caught fire in 1904 while carrying a capacity group of mostly women and children on a church outing.  Going up the East River, the boat quickly became engulfed in flames and over 1,000 people died in the fire on the boat or drowned in the river.

It was the single most loss of lives in New York City history until September 11, 2001.

Captain William Van Schaick was found guilty for the negligence that led to the deaths of so many.  He spent time in Sing Sing Prison.  President Taft pardoned him due to Van Schaick’s old age.   He died in obscurity and was buried in Troy, New York.

Ok-now for the family connection.  William Van Schaick (1837-1927) – his father was Jacob Van Schaick, the eldest brother of Garrett and the firstborn son of William and Eunice Van Schaick.  This makes him Garrett’s nephew.  He was also my great-grandmother Elsie’s first cousin.

I don’t know if Elsie ever met her cousin, who lived in New York.  He was about thirty years older.  Garrett had passed away in 1902, two years before the time of this horrible tragedy in 1904.  But I’m sure they all heard about the New York City excursion boat that burned on the river and killed over a thousand women and children on a Sunday outing.

Some families have outlaws and criminals and scoundrels hidden away as a “skeleton in the closet”.  I shake my head in amazement that the captain of that boat was a relative only four generations removed from me.

I found the immediate answers to my questions regarding Elsie Van Schaick and her family.  Of course, tracing one’s family lineage is like pulling a loose thread on a knit sweater–a firm tug just unravels more and more.  I still have many questions about Garrett and William Van Schaick, his father.  He’s noted on great-grandmother papers of being a soldier in the War of 1812.  With so many brothers, why can’t I find documentation of Van Schaicks serving during the Civil War 1861-1865?  Lots of threads to unravel.

For now, I’ve chipped away at the branches of the family tree–as far as the Van Schaick lineage goes–all the way back to Holland in the 1500s.  For the purposes of my 2002 road trip, I’m not planning to track down Hannah Watkins (English) side of the family.  Not this “trip”.  And I’m merely curious about the Van Buren side of the family.  That would be Elsie’s grandmother, Eunice Van Buren Van Schaick.  Garrett’s mother.

Since the “Van Buren” Dutch name is also a family name of distinction, I have some interest and can at least add the information to the Dutch family tree.  This will also “prove” two family rumors–that our family is related to Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States and the Van Buren family is connected to the Royal lineage of Netherland–the House of Orange/Nassau.

Bring out a new knit sweater–new facts to unravel——

Credit sources: www.ancestry.com

US Census 1850-1860-1870-1900-1920-1930

Jeremiah Van Schaick (Wisconsin), Garrett Van Schaick (Ohio), William Van Schaick , Elsie Ellsworth (Ohio)


About onewomanamericanpilgrimage

In 2011, live in the tropical paradise of Maui, Hawaii. Author, published poet, award-winning speaker (Toastmasters-Kihei chapter), and photographer of Hawaii's inspirational scenery. In 2002, I was a divorced, single mother, living in rural Medina County, Ohio. Suffered from the big 3Ds--debt, divorce & depression. About to turn 50, I fantasized my life could be better, lived with a greater purpose. I was a writer in need of a lifestyle change. At a turning point in my life, July, 2002, I took a solitary road trip to visit important American locations that were also turning points in History. What I observed during my personal "odyssey" became an American Pilgrimage that changed my life. Delivered from the 3Ds--I now live an extraordinary life of purpose and joy. This blog is about my journey through Pennsylvania & New York history. It was also an awakening into my inner potential to have the courage and determination to "life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness" for the 2nd half of my life.
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3 Responses to Our Family Tree – Every Life Tells a Story

  1. Bill Van Schaick says:

    Hi Diana – My name is Bill Van Schaick. I was up early today, actually Googling some of the steamships from the Hidson River Day Line, to show my son Billy when he got up. I decided on a whim to Google Captain William Van Schaick and your blog entry came up. I read it though, and decided to comment.
    My family and I live on Long Island, NY, but I was born and raised in Brooklyn. The Captain of the General Slocum was my Great, Great Grandfather. I am 53 now, so the Slocum Tragedy occured a half century before I was born. My Dad, who passed away a few years ago had known so much of the rich family history surrounding the Husdon River, and in particular, the Steamship Captains back to then.
    About 40 people in our town perished on Sept 11, and our son is a Post 911 baby, so I vividly remember Sept 11 here in NY, and I had always heard that the General Slocum tragedy was the worst loss of life in NY prior to 911, and the third worst maritime disaster after the Titanic and one other event that I do not recall at this time. That said, I read the book several times, and it was horrible.
    There is another side to it to consider, that my Dad always told me. Basically, the NY City Government was quite corrupt back then. It was very common for business’ to “pay off” city inspectors or officials, and basically do what they wanted. In this case, it was said that the owners of the Slocum had paid their way to avoid having to actually perform the necessary safety percautions that could have made a difference. It was said that the life presevers were “painted” to the decks and such, and just turned to powder when people tired to use them.
    Yes, the Captain is responsible. Big Business then (and some would argue today) put money ahead of people and presented Captain Van Schaick with a Steamship in the condition that they felt was safely ready to sail. If he had refused, he would have been the ex-Captain, and the next scapegoat Captain would have been brought in. (I personally would have walked away – I will never put money above human life)
    My father felt that likely every excursion ship in NY Harbor was in similar condition – the Slocum was the unlucky victim.
    Once the tragedy started and fire broke out, my Great, Great Grandfather tried to find a place to land the Slocum. On land, people from all the nearby areas began to run down to the waterfront and fill the old wooden piers to see what was happening. There were hundreds of additional innocent people on these piers so he frantically continued up river to try to find a place to land, which allowed the fire to grow and the tragedy to get worse. Finally, he beached the Slocum on (North Brother Island I think) where there was a hospital facilty of sorts but not alot of people at the water.
    It would seem that this fire put him between a “rock and a hard place”, and that whatever training a Captain would have for that type situation should have been followed.
    My Grandfather Arthur William Van Schaick, who passed away before I was born, was a young boy at that time. He was scheduled to ride with his Grandfather (on the Slocum), but arrived there too late and missed the boat. His Father (my Great Grandfather) who I think was named William, was a Captain of a different steamship company on the Hudson, and he rode with his Dad instead. This boat saw the fire on the Slocum and chased the boat while on fire, trying to catch up and offer assistance, which I believe finally occurred with the rescue efforts.
    My Grandfather grew up to also be a Captain on the Hudson, working for the Hudson River Day Line. He was a pilot on the Alexander Hamilton (which ran into the early 70’s) and then Captain of the Chancey M DePew (which is where I started Googling photos today!)

    • Bill,
      Thanks so much for sharing your recollections of the Van Schaick family history. We are distant cousins–and I’m glad to know that fact. Jacob Van Schaick was Captain William’s father. Garrett Van Schaick was Jacob’s brother, so your great-great-grandfather was his nephew. Garrett died in Ohio, probably before the 1904 boating tragedy. But my great-grandmother, Elsie Van Schaick Elllsworth, was Captain William’s 1st cousin and I’m sure she knew about the family connection. My grandmother, Vera Ellsworth, would have been about fifteen and aware of the New York disaster. I don’t believe I ever heard this family episode discussed among my relatives.
      The common ancestors we share are Garrett and Jacob’s parents, William Van Schaick and Eunice (Van Buren) Van Schaick.
      I envy you for carrying the name of the Dutch ancestor who emigrated from the Netherlands in 1637, Goosen Gerrittsen Van Schaick. Did you know there is a Dutch Society based in New York that has membership offered to descendants of Dutch settlers who colonized the Hudson River area in the early 1600s?
      Only direct male descendants who can trace their lineage back to the original Dutch settler/immigrant can join the “club”. Therefore, with your surname and the illustrious history of our common ancestor–you can become a member–but I cannot.
      I appreciate you taking the time to fully explain in detail what happened to Captain William Van Schaick and the boat tragedy. As in every situation, including family stories, there are two sides to the story.
      Your cousin, Diana

  2. Angela T says:

    I was googling my 3rd Great Grandfather, Stephen Henry Van Schaick and came across your blog. I feel like I have hit the genealogy jackpot!

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