Monday: Map Day! – Wayne County, 1829

Before Mequon: finding Mary Turck’s home in upstate New York

Tracing the lives of Americans in the first decades of the 19th-century can be challenging. Whether along the expanding frontier, or in long-established and settled areas such as New York’s Hudson River valley, there are often many unhelpful gaps in the paper trail. Even the federal census—which counted, every ten years, “all persons” living in America—only recorded the name of the “head” of each (white) family, and the sex and age ranges of other members of the household.

So what do we know about the Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck family in the years before they arrived in Mequon? As we discussed previously, we know the family had deep roots in the traditionally Dutch-American communities of the Hudson River valley’s Ulster, Greene, Dutchess and Columbia counties. We know Mary Turck was born in Athens, Greene county, in 1821, the eldest child of Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck. By tracing the baptismal registers (where they exist) and other biographical records of her younger siblings, we know that by 1833 the family was in Palmyra, Wayne County, New York.

Wayne County: Palmyra and Macedon

Burr, David H. Map of the County of Wayne. Published by the Surveyor General, pursuant to an Act of the Legislature. Entered according to an Act of Congress Jany. 5th. 1829 by David H. Burr of the State of New York. Engd. by Rawdon, Clark & Co., Albany & Rawdon, Wright & Co., N.Y. Credit, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, non-commercial use permitted under Creative Commons license. Click image to open larger map in new window.

Today’s map shows Wayne county, New York in the year 1829, right around the time the Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck family lived there. Our investigations this week will focus on the Turck’s footprints in Palmyra and Macedon townships, in the southwest corner of the county. Take some time to open the map in a new window and click again to enlarge. Take a close look at how the Erie Canal snakes its way from east to west across the southern half of the county. And check out the sectional divisions of each township. This is old-school surveying, done before the rectangular survey system became the national standard for laying out symmetrical county, section and parcel lines. (For what it’s worth, these Wayne County sections are irregular, but they aren’t as weird as the metes-and-bounds surveys of older, established counties such as Greene, Columbia and similar places in New York, New England and elsewhere.)

So many questions…

How did the Turck family get to Wayne County? When did they leave their familiar Greene county for an Erie Canal boomtown like Palmyra? We know that Peter Turck served as a Baptist minister for at least two congregations in Palmyra and Macedon townships, from about 1833-1836. But preaching in small rural churches was not a full-time job. Did he farm? Where? Did he own land? Where and when? Did he prosper? What did the children do? Were there schools for them?

Answers to these questions will satisfy some of our historical curiosity about the family but, more importantly, they may also shed light on other aspects of the Turck’s migration. Peter Turck had eight sibilings; perhaps his family’s finances were desperate. If money was tight, did he head to Palmyra to get a fresh start in western New York? Did he fail there and have to keep moving west, perhaps to eke out a living on newly opened—and very inexpensive—federal land north of Illinois? Or was he a successful New York farmer or business man, looking for a new challenge, with substantial capital saved, ready to fund a new life for his family in the Wisconsin Territory?

Answers in the archives…

I think we can find answers for many of these questions in the land transactions recorded in the deed books of Wayne County and Greene County, New York. The good news is that these documents have been microfilmed and digitized, and I have been able to access them online. The bad news is that these are handwritten land deeds from 1820s and 1830s New York state. Even by the standards of long-winded legal documents of this era, these are champions of wordy complexity. I need to sort through these; because of their, er, density, I’ve been procrastinating until now. But I think it’s time to bite the research bullet: we’re going to transcribe some deeds and sift out the useful nuggets of historical gold buried inside. It’s a lot of reading, squinting, deciphering and typing, but now’s the time. Grab a cup of coffee (no decaf!) and join me next time, for our first battle with “The party of the first part…”

Stay safe Be well.