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A Novel Way to Get a Middle Name

The Search for Polly Reed Ford


Sharon Mountford

Polly Reed Ford she was usually called.  She was my gg-grandmother, but I knew virtually nothing about her.  The little booklet American Descendants of James Latta compiled by Emmit Girdell Latta (her grandson) gave the date of her marriage to Isaac Schultz Latta as Nov. 7, 1821 in Geneva, Ontario County, NY.  Emmit provided no other information about her - but then, genealogy at the turn of the last century was primarily concerned with the descent of the Y chromosome:  the family name.

From census searches I knew that she was born about 1797 in either Massachusetts or Pennsylvania.  What I could not know is whether I was searching for Mary or Polly Reed, the widow of some Mr. Ford; or someone born as Mary (or Polly) Reed Ford.  Many hours were spent trying to identify possible children.  Of course the most obvious path was to check out all of the marriages between Reed women and Ford men, thinking that her middle name might well be her motherís maiden name.  Another path was to look for all the Ford men who disappeared from their home area in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania between 1800 and 1820 and showed up in Ontario County, New York, thinking that her family probably moved and she with it.  There were dozens of prospects, none of them right in every respect.

Polly had a son whom she named Josiah Reed Latta, so I was also on the look-out for Josiah Reeds, figuring that there probably was someone of that name in her ancestry.  That proved to be another very common name.

A solitary lead appeared in an index of the Geneva Gazette, which carried a notice of the marriage of Mary Ford and Isaac Latta in the November 15 issue in 1820 (not 1821).  My mission became to find that particular issue of the Gazette.  The index was prepared by a man who was on the faculty or staff at the William Smith and Hobart Colleges in Geneva.  Letters to him and to the university had failed to get a response.  Interlibrary loan of the microfilmed newspaper brought a roll of film which nominally covered the year 1820, but did not include the issue in question. I reasoned that if the author knew to include the article in a recently prepared index, he must have seen a copy of the paper.  I determined that the only way to see the actual newspaper was to go to Geneva. 

Last summer, on a genealogy expedition through New York, I visited Pollyís grave in Friendship, New York, and found that her exact birthdate was given on the tombstone.  (If only it would prove to be correct!)  Now I would be looking for a Polly or Mary, Reed or Ford born on 8 Nov. 1797.

At the Geneva Historical Society I discovered that the paper for which I was searching was probably in their vaults, but the papers are very fragile and they were not available to the everyday genealogist.  At the Geneva Public Library I looked at the filmed Geneva Gazette and discovered that it too was missing the issue of interest.  At the William Smith and Hobart Colleges library the same was true.  All three were copies of the same filming.

At the University the archivist was helpful and interested in the search.  We looked at the filing cards which had been prepared in order to compile the index.  The card for the Latta/Ford marriage contained no new information.  As a parting comment when we were leaving, she asked whether we had been to the Reed Cemetery in town.  We had not.  It was nearby and became our next stop.

The “cemetery ”is now actually about a six-foot square of land, enclosed by a wrought iron chain, containing the remnants of the gravestones which were extant when the cemetery was “consolidated ”to make room for other uses. It is very near to an Assembly of God Church and the pastorís home is adjacent.  As we were looking at the stones, the pastor emerged to inquire about our interest in the Reeds.  I had to admit that at this point I didnít know for whom I was looking, but the name Josiah Reed was of interest to me.  He brought out a paper which contained all of the information legible on the stones when they had been moved.  On the list was “Sibel,” wife of Josiah Reed.  Within the enclosure was a very tall foot stone, 3 to 4 feet high of the purest white marble, engraved with the initials SR.  Sybil was the only person on the list with the initials SR, and I “adopted ”the stone as being hers.

I left Geneva feeling as if I had failed.  I still didnít know anything about Polly Reed Ford.

The next week we were in Berkshire County, Massachusetts where my husband was participating in the Berkshire Choral Festival.  One morning I drove into Great Barrington hoping to pick up my e-mail at the local library.  In spite of information to the contrary, the library was not on the internet.  I had a couple of hours until lunch, so I asked about their local history section, which turned out to be quite extensive.   They had dozens of volumes of the vital records of Massachusetts before 1850 - a set which contains one town per volume.  Since one of the choices for Pollyís birth was Massachusetts, I began reading.  I looked at all of the towns from which I had other ancestors, but found nothing. The most convenient volumes to reach started with the Mís, so I began there.

It was nearly time for lunch and I was only in the Pís.  The next volume was pretty small and bore the interesting name of Peru, so I checked one more book.  There she was!  Mary Ford, born 8 Nov., 1797 to Elisha Ford and his wife Sibbel.  My reaction was incredulity and an upset stomach!  After looking for so long, I somehow found it hard to accept that she had been sitting there in print in a book which I have probably passed in other libraries without opening.  It seemed at that moment to be too easy, too clean.  There was no indication that her middle name was Reed.  The Elisha part made sense, as she named her first son Samuel Elisha Latta, one name from each grandfather.

Peru was formerly Partridgefield and is in Berkshire County, just “up the road” from Great Barrington.  After returning to tell my husband what I had found, I was off for Peru to see the lay of the land.  The fog and drizzle hid most of the territory from view and I will have to return again.  The next day it was a hasty trip to the county clerkís office for a look at land and probate records.  There I found a gold mine.  Elisha died in 1799, leaving a will naming his wife Sibbel and only child Polly.  It also named his three brothers Charles, John and Roswell and a sister Polly Lamphear, wife of OliverElisha had died on a trip to Bozrah, Connecticut, but the will was filed in Massachusetts.  Many other documents were filed with the will and they included proof that before 1806 Sybil had married Josiah Reed!

After returning home I read the church records of Bozrah, Connecticut, which gave baptisms for Elisha and his siblings (but no parents were listed in any baptisms of that period.)  Elisha Ford and Sybil Hammond were married in Bozrah on 7 Jan. 1797.  Other sources named Joseph Ford as the father of Charles, John and Roswell.  A 9-volume set on the Ford family by Hannibal C. Ford cites the will of Joseph referring to his sons Charles, John and Roswell, Polly the daughter of his deceased son Elisha, and a daughter Mary Lamphear.  In the Ford book Joseph is shown as the gg-grandson of William Ford, with the intimation that William came to Plymouth on the Fortune in 1623, son of “Widow Ford.” Whether that proves true or not, William was there very early and his son Michael married Abigail Snow, the granddaughter of Richard Warren who was indeed on the Mayflower.  Once you get back to that period, you find you are related to just about everyone in the colony.

So now I had a picture of my great great grandmother.  Born in the lovely Berkshires where her father and Uncle Charles had gone to settle the frontier, left fatherless at 2, she and her mother remained in Partridgefield at least until after the 1800 census.  Charles remained and is noted in histories of the town.  I do not yet know how or where Sybil met Josiah Reed, but I take it from censuses that he was a widower with young children, and Sybil married into a number of siblings for Polly and added more children with Josiah.  Polly was an “only child” growing up in a large family.  As an adult Polly probably did not remember her days in the Berkshires, for the Josiah Reed family lived in Ontario County, New York.  Polly evidently had a good relationship with her stepfather, as she always used his name as her middle name and she named a son after him.  It leads me to wonder why we have no Sybilís in later generations - perhaps because no one could agree on how to spell it!

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Created on ... October 22, 2000

© copyright 2000 by Sharon Mountford, used by permission
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