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In advance of today's open thread, I'm making this quick post. I jotted this stuff down early this morning so I would not forget last night's exciting discoveries. It's a story of research success, so I figure I might as well post it.

My romantic dinner at home with my wife was delayed because she was held up at work until almost 9. I took the time to visit the website of the Vermont State Archives. We're taking a trip up that way next week, and I was planning to visit the archives. I had a few brick walls and was missing a bunch of exact dates. At some point the towns started reporting their records to the state, so I figured visiting the state archives would be easier than hitting dozens of town halls.

The website said many of their records are now online, via familysearch.org. Hadn't looked for this stuff on there in a while, so I gave it a shot. And I found enough stuff to fill in some of my most frustrating blanks, to the point that I don't really need to visit the archives next week. That, says my wife, is the nicest Valentine's present of all. Keep reading to see what I found.

1. I found the death record for my great-great-grandfather, Lee's father Joseph. I had this down to a tight range (he was alive in the 1900 census and his wife was listed as "widow" in a 1906 directory), but didn't have the date. None of the towns near where they lived had any record for him. I was calling town after town to no avail. Now I find he died in 1903 in a town pretty far removed from where the family lived. No clue why he was there.

2. Also found the marriage record for Lee's parents. His father Joseph was living across the state in the 1880 census, and they had a daughter in 1882, so I figured they married in 1881. They did.

3. Joseph's grandfather, a character named Riley Adams, is a mystery figure. Part of the mystery is solved: he was living in 1880, but was 92 years old. The town clerk told me they had no death record for him. Familysearch.org begs to differ. He died, in that town, in 1882 at the age of 93.

4. The identity of Riley's father is a giant mystery. His mother had a different last name, with no father listed on the birth record. As far as I can tell, she had two children (in 1788 and 1790) she named "Adams," after having another one in 1786 she named "Allen." The ostensible father of her Allen daughter, according to someone's family tree, was the 18-year-old son of a prominent local family. (Months after the baby was born, he married someone else who also was well on the way to having their first child. The baby was born 4 months after the wedding. I guess he got around.) Riley's half-sister, a mystery to me, apparently married someone in town in 1806, moved to Vermont, had five children, and moved to Wisconsin. She and her husband died there in the late 1840s. It seems like she had a good life. I'm glad for it.

5. Riley's mother, despite having these three seemingly illegitimate children, seems to have married a somewhat younger man when Riley was about 11. They had a child together, she died, and he moved back to his hometown in central Massachusetts and remarried. In the 1800 census the happy couple appears to have lived alone. Wonder to where Riley (then 11), his brother (then 9), and his sister (then 13) were shoved off.

6. Charla of last week's diary, and her sister Sophia who married James B. Emerson, had three siblings. Emerson's book said that, by the late 1870s, two of those three were dead. Finally I found the oldest sister's death record, at the age of 14 in 1857.

7. Emerson's book said spirits told him, during a seance, that one of Charla, his wife Sophia, or their brother Henry would die within three years. Henry was the unlucky one. I found that, before he died in 1881, he married and had a son. His wife divorced him only two years after marriage and, after his death, married again and had another son.

8. Finding Henry's grave on Find-A-Grave (thanks Figbash for reminding me always to look there!!) led me to their last sibling. I had him as "Lewis" because that's what it looked like in the 1850 census. But photos showed Henry was buried right next to a "Jarvis." I went back to the 1850 census and concluded that Jarvis it was. Turns out Jarvis, after their father died, was working in 1860 as a servant in someone's house. He was only 15. Not liking that, he lied about his age to join the army when the Civil War broke out. His unit was at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, etc., but in late 1863 he caught sick and died in 1864. He was not yet 19.

9. I was able to trace Henry's son, whose middle name was "Emerson," and all his descendants to the present day (there are not many). Vermont records after 1900 are a breeze. Given that there was no other Emerson in the family, I'm venturing the middle name was given in honor of James B. Emerson, who was married to one of Henry's surviving siblings and employing the other as his assistant.

10. I got word from the historical society up in N.H. that my speculations about James Emerson's older daughter were correct, and she's buried in their cemetery near her parents and sister. They sent me photos of "Hattie" and hash marks carved into a beam at a house there owned by the brother of James B. Emerson's first wife. We wondered if the hash marks had to do with efforts to contact her from the great beyond. Also came across James B. Emerson's obit, which said he went to sea out of New Bedford.

One frustration: I have a brick wall, mentioned earlier, about the paternal grandmother of Lee's mother. I thought I may have identified her family but, after a lot of legwork last night, now I'm not so sure. More on that another day.

But all in all, my wife's unexpected meeting gave me a whole bunch of dates, places, etc. that I was despairing of ever finding with precision. And some more interesting stories. That, to me, is the nicest Valentine's present of all. OK, not really. But it's still pretty cool.

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