The Strangers in the Family Plot

Who the hell are these people?

As noted in this narrative there are several people in the Brown family plot who I have not yet been able to definitively identify as family members. However, I am convinced they are “related” to the Brown-Frith family in some way.

1. Robert Smith, 32 years, interred 14 Jan 1849, grave 15. He was interred the same day as Sarah Brown Mason and her brothers John and George. While I have been unable to find any specific information on him, his burial information would indicate a date of birth about 1813-1817. While it is possible that he’s a nephew or cousin, the fact that the family moved him here at the same time they moved their own children indicates a very close relationship. With such a common name and no additional information, Robert’s full identity and relationship to the family may be lost to time.

2. Ellen Winn, 76 years, interred 15 Jul 1860, grave 14. Ellen b. 1784 and William Winn b. 1781 arrived from England with William and Frances (Brown) Frith on 14 Jul 1837. William Winn died between 1840-1850 but I have not yet located a death record or interment for him. Ellen appears on the 1850 Federal Census with Sarah and Richard Young (relationship unknown) in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, Kings. However, after William Frith died in 1855, Ellen took in their three youngest children. Frances and William Frith had named their daughter Susan Winn Frith (1839) and another daughter Ellen (1844) and the Winn/Wynn name appeared in two more generations of Frith descendants. Ellen died on 13 Jul 1860 in Brooklyn.

Frances’s mother Elizabeth was still alive and living with Frances’s sister Mary Ann when both Frances and William passed, leaving several minor children. Why would the children live with Ellen instead of Frances’s mother and sister? My best guess is that Ellen Winn is a sister or sister-in-law to either William or Elizabeth (Heriott) Brown or to William Frith’s parents. I’ll attempt to locate a marriage record for William Winn and Ellen to get her maiden name, and I’ll also check the Frith, Brown, and Heriott records for an Ellen. My other hope is to locate guardianship records for the children as they may name a relationship to Ellen.

3. William Norwich, 61 years (b. abt 1805), interred 2 Mar 1860 – I have not been able to determine his relationship – if any to William and Elizabeth (Heriott) Brown or to William and Frances (Brown) Frith. I have managed to establish a timeline:

1805 – Born 16 Oct 1805 to Samuel & Elizabeth (Measures) Norwich in Leicester, Leicester, England. Baptism: 23 Oct 1805 at St Margaret, Leicester, Leicester, England.
1835 – 17 Mar – New York, Arrives alone aboard the Hannibal, age 26, occupation: machine maker.
1840 – He was not definitively found on the 1840 Federal Census, however there is a Henry Norwich in Ward 11 and two males one 30-39, one 40-49.
1850 – Brooklyn. Age 40 (b.1810), living next door to Mary Anne Brown Pringle.
1852 – Married Maria (Unknown) in New York
1853 – 20 Apr, Infant of Mr. Norwich, age 0y, 2m, 5d, buried in the Brown-Frith family plot
1855 – NY State Census stated age 44 (b.1811), a gas fitter, wife Maria, b.1810 NY. Also in the home is a niece Mary C. McCaner b.1847 NY and nephew Wm McCaner b.1852 NY. On the 1855 NY Census William states that he’s been a resident for 20 years (matching his arrival date of 1835) and that he’s a Naturalized Citizen.
1860 – New York Ward 21, stated age 51 b.1809 and Maria is 52. Also in the home is Wm Norwich, 32, b.1828 NY as is nephew Wm McCann b. 1852. No relationship is given, but Wm Norwich, 32, cannot be our William’s son since our William didn’t arrive until 1835. He’s most likely a nephew.
1865 – NY State Census – Not yet located.
1866 – From the New York Herald, Friday, 2 Mar 1866, “NORWICH – On Wednesday, February 28, William Norwich, a native of Leicestershire, England, aged 61 years. Friends and relatives are invited to attend the funeral from 794 Third avenue, this (Friday) afternoon, at one o’clock. English papers please copy.”

So… who are they and why are they in the family plot?

A Descendant Narrative

How about a better visual update in a single printable sheet. Here is a descendant narrative for John Burgraff (1858-1921). This is current as of today.

Go Back and Check Again!!!

FamilySearch has been digitizing, indexing, and adding records like mad, so it’s important you check back often. I went in recently, checked the records for Iowa, and was happy to find many new records up so I searched for the Burgraff line again. Amazingly, I found that there was another child of John and Elizabeth Burgraff that no one had ever documented. A male child born 27 April 1889 in Rock Valley, Sioux, Iowa. Unnamed on this record, and not documented in the family bible, this child apparently died quite soon after birth. I have found no death record or news item as of yet.

Sioux County, Iowa, has been doing a great job getting their old newspapers online. They’ve been working at it for a couple of years now. Recently one of the people that I correspond with in the Netherlands let me know that they’d added papers and offered to translate some of the Dutch items for me if I needed help. Albert and I have been trading information and help for years, and his English is far better than my Dutch.

I went back to the site, entered the name “Burgraff,” and narrowed the years to 1885-1895, fully expecting to get nothing. However, what I saw had me doing the happy little genealogy dance around the room. There under a listing for the December 8, 1892, Rock Valley Register1 was a snippet
“…Home Monday morning John Burgraff died at the family home about four miles northeast of of inflammation of the Deceased was about 32 years of md leaves a sorrowing husband…”

As soon as I saw the words “inflammation of the…” and “…sorrowing husband…” I knew that I had finally found a death notice for Elizabeth Burgraff, my great grandfather John’s first wife. I have been searching for information on Lizzie’s death since I began genealogy work. I quickly clicked on the article and raced through it:

On Monday morning [5 Dec 1892] Mrs. John Burgraff died at the family home about four miles northeast of town, of inflammation of the bowels. Deceased was about 32 years of age, and leaves a sorrowing husband and four children to mourn her untimely death. The sympathy of all goes out to them in their affliction.

More happy dancing ensued. This confirmed the memories of Minnie VandenTop in her 1973 letter. Lizzie did die on the farm of bowel trouble. But wait! There’s a couple of problems here. My first error was in thinking that Little Albert survived his mother. He obviously didn’t as the article says four children. I know that Peter, William, Arrie, and Sadie are still alive at later dates so that leaves not only Albert as deceased prior to his mother, but also the unnamed male child mentioned above.

The biggest problem is the dates of Elizabeth’s death versus another known date – the date of birth for Mary’s daughter Maggie. Every extant document for Maggie clearly reflects her birth as being in 1892. It begins with both the Iowa and Minnesota state census records, which both claim she is three years of age prior to June and July of that year. This date remains consistent throughout her life and is clear on every census record, along with her three marriage records, and her obituary. Her sister Sadie pointed out in an interview that Maggie died 20 March 1967 on her 75th birthday.

So who is Maggie’s father? I have found no birth record for her. Based on this newly found news article it is clear that she was born nine full months before Elizabeth’s death and almost eighteen months before Mary and John Burgraff wed.

Absent any other records, there are only two choices. Either John and Mary had a relationship prior to Elizabeth’s death, or John Burgraff is not Maggie’s father.

It would be easy to think the worst, but I’m not buying that one, and here’s my reasoning:
1. William (Elizabeth’s brother) remained close to John and moved to Minnesota with him, living next door to John and Mary during their time there. Arie (Elizabeth’s brother) also remained in close contact with John over the years. I find it hard to believe that Lizzie’s brothers would remain close to a man who had a child outside the marriage to their sister.
2. Illegitimate children were not as uncommon as we might think. While it wasn’t “approved” of, there was not the stigma that we would have expected. It is possible that Mary Kortlever bore a child out of wedlock by another man.
3. It is also possible that Mary was previously married and had Maggie. Although I have found no evidence of this, I am not taking this possibility out of the equation. I remember being confused when I saw the marriage record for John Burggraaf and saw his wife was listed as a Burggraaf. My immediate thought was that it was error, until I found they were cousins. Mary appears as a Kortlever on her marriage record to John Burgraff, but for all I know, she might have married a Kortlever cousin, had Maggie, and then he passed away. With the lack of extant records, it’s as plausible as anything else.

So, with no clear evidence to say otherwise, I have decided to go with the more positive option. I believe Mary had a child and when John’s wife Elizabeth died, Mary came to work for him, bringing her child along. John and Mary wed, and John raised Maggie as his own. Not an unusual circumstance for its day.



1. “Local Item,” Rock Valley Register, 8 Dec 1892, p. 5; digital images.

John Burgraff – Saint or Sinner

There are so many family stories about John that it was initially very difficult to figure out what to think of him.

When someone dies, it becomes normal for people to follow the old adage, “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” Many people are elevated to near sainthood by those left behind. When I started asking about John, this appeared to be where the stories were. John was a hard working farmer. John was a smart guy that understood the idea of investing in land. John was a man that appreciated technology. John provided well for his family and they had nice houses and good barns. John was always ready to help a neighbor.

While no doubt all of this is true – it is not the whole picture of a complex man. There were some comments that probably paint a more realistic picture. One comment attributed to John’s son William was, “If you’re dealing with my father, keep your hand on your wallet.” When I commented on the move the family made to a larger farm, Sadie told me, “The older the boys got, the more land Dad bought. He didn’t work it – that’s what he had the boys for.” The general impression was that he liked to own it, but he didn’t necessarily want to be the worker bee.

People spoke frankly about John when asked and sometimes the information was simply amazing. I have not quoted directly here to protect the speakers – no one wanted their name with this information. There were several comments about John and a fondness for women and more than one person said that Mary must have been a saint to put up with his wandering eye.

His business dealings were another source of speculation. The comment above attributed to William was hardly the only comment about John’s deals. He apparently spent a lot of time looking at and speculating on land. When Little Arrie was killed he was away looking at property. He seemed to constantly be seeking new land and new deals according to the many people I spoke with. He appears to have desired to be the big fish in the small pond. I have no doubt that if there had been a country club with golf, John Burgraff would have been a charter member.

The one thing that everyone agreed upon was that he was good at business and knew the art of the deal.

John may have been a speculator and a wheeler-dealer, but he was also a man that loved to have large family gatherings, shared with his family and friends when they were in need, loved to dance, and sang to his children.

No one is either all good or all bad – they are just people.

The Bryant and Utterback Page

I am happy to provide this page for George Chester Bryant. He was the second husband of Dorothy Josephine Johnson Burgraff and without Chet things may not have turned out so well for the Burgraff children. Chet married Dorothy in 1941 and took on her four children during a time when money was pretty hard to come by. He raised those four as his own and then became grandfather and great-grandfather to successive generations of Burgraff children.

Chet’s mother Margaret Utterback died shortly after his birth and Chet and his two sisters, Clacey and Lula were split up between the Bryant, Utterback and Brown families. While Chet remained in Oklahoma with either his uncles Wiley or William Bryant, Clacey and Lula were sent back to Kentucky and raised with Margaret’s family, although not in the same home. I have not been active on this line for awhile.