Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Blakeslee Family of Schenectady

This blog post was written by library volunteer Erin Hill-Burns.

Editorial note: Every once in a while, a historian or historical society will find items that are not their scope and send them on to a more fitting repository. This recently happened when Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts sent us a family history book titled Happenings in Our Home that was kept by the Blakeslee family of Schenectady. Library volunteer Erin Hill-Burns did some extensive genealogical research on the Blakeslee family and found a very interesting connection between the Blakeslees and the Schenectady County Historical Society. Read more about the family below. -  Librarian, Mike Maloney

On 17 April 1909, John Roy Blakeslee and Mabel Mary Shea, both graduates of Cornell University, were married in Syracuse, New York. After a honeymoon, the couple began their life together in Schenectady, where John had a job at General Electric.[1]

John was born 6 April 1878 in Whitehall, New York.[2] He grew up in Whitehall, likely the son of John Blakeslee, a dry goods merchant, and Elizabeth (Spooner) Blakeslee. The elder John died in 1892, Elizabeth died in 1912, and both were buried in Whitehall.[3]

Mabel was born 21 February 1880 in Pulaski, New York and later moved to Syracuse; she was the daughter of John W. Shea, a lawyer, and Sylvia L (Cross) Shea.[4] John died in 1925, Sylvia died in 1943, and both were buried in Syracuse.[5]

Shortly after their marriage, John and Mabel began keeping notes of family events, gatherings, milestones, and more in a diary/scrapbook titled Happenings in Our Home. This book gives information and clues about their family history as it happened, including some insights into everyday life in early 20th century Schenectady.[6]

2210 The Plaza, Schenectady (as of 2011). From Google Maps.
John and Mabel had one daughter, Sylvia Elizabeth, born 27 September 1913.[7] The family lived in rented homes in Schenectady until 1921,[8] when they bought their own house on The Plaza in Niskayuna; “No more rent. No more flats,” they commented.[9] The house, at 2210 The Plaza, was built the year they moved in, and still stands today.[10]
  
By April 1928, John had worked at G.E. for twenty-five years, joining the “Quarter Century Club.”[11] As of the 1940 census, John had no occupation listed, suggesting that he had retired from G.E. before then.[12] In the mid-1940s, John served as Deputy Town Clerk in Niskayuna.[13] 

In 1930, John and Mabel’s daughter Sylvia graduated from Schenectady High School.[14] In her high school yearbook, Sylvia was (self?) described as, “Sphere: Being quiet; Hope: To be able to wisecrack; Sin: Studying.” Despite her apparently quiet tendencies, that same yearbook listed her as a part of Glee Club, debating clubs, Le Cercle Fran├žais, and the National Honor Society.[15] She attended Syracuse University where she graduated with a degree in Library Science in 1934, and then returned home and began working at the Schenectady County Public Library.[16]

Sylvia joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1934,[17] and was regularly involved in DAR events in Schenectady over the years.[18] She was also active with other social groups and happenings around town. [19]

As a member of the library staff, Sylvia was a fixture in the community. She held discussions on recently published books.[20] She and others worked to answer many diverse questions from library patrons; for example: “Amount of the tuition to the University of Georgia. A student wanted to know how much money to take with him;” “the burying place of Benedict Arnold;” “the correct formation of the wedding procession;” and “dimensions of the court of the women in the temple of Herod.”[21]

Newspaper clipping showing Sylvia Blakeslee (possibly in the middle) at the Schenectady County Historical Society.
Sylvia was also involved with the Schenectady County Historical Society throughout the years.[22] One notable contribution was that, in a collaboration between the Schenectady County Public Library and the Historical Society, Sylvia cataloged the 1,400 volumes of the Historical Society library, which had never been cataloged. This required the classification of all of the books, numbering them according to the Dewey decimal system, and typing cards for a card catalog.[23]
  
On 7 February 1955, John Blakeslee died at age 76.[24] Less than two years later, on 20 October 1956, Mabel died, also at age 76.[25] Both were buried at Park View Cemetery, in Schenectady.[26] After her parents’ deaths, Sylvia, who was unmarried, remained living in the family home at 2210 The Plaza, and still worked at the library.[27]

Around 1959, Sylvia married Howard Rowback.[28] After they were married, Howard worked for the County Sheriff’s Office, Sylvia continued working for the library, and they lived at the Blakeslee house, 2210 The Plaza.[29] Howard died about ten years later, on 23 April 1968, and he was buried at Park View Cemetery, near Sylvia’s parents.[30]

Sylvia worked at the library until her retirement in 1971, after thirty-seven years of service – apparently “the longest service record of any staff member of the library.”[31]

In 2001, Sylvia sold the house at 2210 The Plaza, the home that her parents purchased eighty years earlier.[32] Around that time, she moved to Tinton Falls, New Jersey (a town where her cousin lived); she died there on 15 April 2008, at age 94, “after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.” No descendants were named in her obituary. She was buried back in Schenectady, in Park View Cemetery, near her parents and husband.[33]

Images from the Blakeslee's Happenings in our Home can be seen below:

This page documents the Blakeslees vacation to Green Lake near Gloversville. 
Thanksgiving 1918 included "Carnations from Mildred".



Sylvia "Betty" Blakeslee was a suffragette in the making, asking her mother why she doesn't get to vote when her father can.

Mabel Blakeslee documents many events throughout the 1910s including the United States joining the Allies during World War I.



All referenced websites were viewed 13 May 2019.
[1] John R. and Mabel (Shea) Blakeslee Family Notes, in Joseph C Bridgeman, Happenings in Our Home (Boston: Samuel Ward Company, 1903); Grems-Doolittle Library, Schenectady County Historical Society, Schenectady, New York, 2019. The book has pages with headings for recording events, milestones, etc. There is a handwritten note on the Introduction page, “This book is begun on Christmas night, 1909.” There are dated entries throughout the book, some in different inks or pencil, and occasionally in different handwritings; many entries may have been written at the time of or shortly after events happened. New York State Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate and Record of Marriage, no. 1101, John Roy Blakeslee and Mabel Mary Shea (1909); accessed in “New York, County Marriage Records, 1847-1849, 1907-1936,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/fsmarriagenewyork/).

[2] “U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/wwiidraft/), card for John R. Blakeslee, serial number U1573, Local Draft Board no. 354, Schenectady, New York; citing NARA, RG 147, roll 49. Also Blakeslee Family Notes, “Birthdays.”

[3] 1880 U.S. census, Washington County, New York, population schedule, Whitehall, enumeration district (ED) 158, page 20, dwelling 188, family 230, John R. Blakeslee; accessed in “1880 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1880usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T623, roll 943. 1892 New York state census, Washington Co., pop. sch., Town of Whitehall, p. 1 (penned), Roy Blakeslee; accessed in “New York, State Census, 1892,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1892nycensus/). 1900 U.S. census, Washington Co., New York, pop. sch., Village of Whitehall, ED 146, sheet 22A, dwell. 471, fam. 513, Roy Blakslee [Blakeslee]; accessed in “1900 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1900usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T623, roll unspecified. For parents’ deaths and Elizabeth’s maiden name, see Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (http://www.findagrave.com), memorial 61844621, Elizabeth Spooner Blakeslee (1938-1912), Boardman Cemetery, Whitehall, Washington Co., New York; gravestone photograph by Jen Snoots. Also, Blakeslee Family Notes, “The Life Immortal.”

[4] “Descendants Search,” database, Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogy Research (http://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search/?Tab_ID=5), descendants list for member Sylvia Elizabeth Blakeslee. Blakeslee Family Notes, “Birthdays.” “Blakeslee Funeral to Be Private,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 22 October 1956, page number not shown, col. 2; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/). 1880 U.S. census, Oswego Co., New York, pop. sch., Richland (Pulaski Village), ED 263, p.31, dwell. 10, fam. 10, Maybel Shea; accessed in “1880 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1880usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T9, roll 915. 1892 New York state census, Onondaga Co., pop. sch., Syracuse Ward 11, p. 4 (penned), Mabel M. Shea; accessed in “New York, State Census, 1892,” database with images, Ancestry https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1892nycensus/). 1900 U.S. census, Onondaga Co., New York, pop. sch., Syracuse Ward 18, ED 159, sheet 8B, dwell. 144, fam. 204, Mabel M. Shea; accessed in “1900 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1900usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T623, roll unspecified.

[5] Find A Grave, memorial 135754086, John W. Shea (1850-1925), and memorial 135754104, Sylvia Cross Shea (1853-1943), Onondaga Valley Cemetery, Syracuse, Onondaga Co., New York, gravestone photographs by Diane LM.

[6] Blakeslee Family Notes.

[7] Blakeslee Family Notes, “Births.” “New York State Birth Index - 1913,” images, InternetArchive (https://archive.org/details/New_York_State_Birth_Index_1913), p. 96, entry for Sylvia E Blakeslee, 27 September.

[8] 1910 U.S. census, Schenectady Co., New York, pop. sch., Schenectady City Ward 12, ED 218, sheet 8B, dwell. 121, fam. 186, John R. Blakeslee household; accessed in “1910 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1910uscenindex/); citing NARA digital publication T624, roll 1078. 1920 U.S. census, Schenectady Co., New York, pop. sch., Schenectady City Ward 12, ED 181, sheet 5B, dwell. 65, fam. 123, John R. Blakeslee household; accessed in “1920 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1920usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T625, roll 1263.

[9] Blakeslee Family Notes, “Moving.” 1930 U.S. census, Schenectady Co., New York, pop. sch., Niskayuna town, ED 47-9, sheet 5A, dwell. 113, fam. 124, John R. Blakeslee household; accessed in “1930 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1930usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T626, roll unspecified. 1940 U.S. census, Schenectady Co., New York, pop. sch., Niskayuna, ED 47-18, sheet 12A, household 296, John R. Blakeslee household; accessed in “1940 United States Federal Census,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1940usfedcen/); citing NARA digital publication T627, roll 2774. The house number listed in the Blakeslee Family Notes and Records is “311 Plaza,” while later records refer to “2210 The Plaza;” there is no reason to suspect this is not the same house, homes on the street may have been renumbered.

[10] Schenectady County, New York, “Schenectady County Search,” database, Image Mate Online (http://imate.schenectadycounty.com/imate/), Public Access, “Report,” 2210 The Plaza.

[11] “10 Employees Join G. E. Quarter Century Club,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 21 April 1928, p. 10, col. 7; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[12] 1940 U.S. census, Schenectady Co., New York, pop. sch., Niskayuna, ED 47-18, sheet 12A, household 296, John R. Blakeslee.

[13] “Niskayuna Board Names Appointees,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 4 January 1946, unnumbered first page, “Second Section,” col. 7; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/). “Niskayuna Town Board Sets Salaries,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 2 January 1947, unnumbered first page, “Second Section,” col. 7; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[14] “Schenectady Girl to Enter Syracuse Univ.,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 19 July 1930, p. 11, col. 7; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[15] Schenectady High School Yearbook 1930 [title page not shown], unnumbered page 29; database with digital images, “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/yearbooksindex/), New York > Schenectady > Schenectady High School > 1930 > image 29.

[16] “Leaving Library,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 27 May 1971, p. 28, cols. 4-5; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[17] “Member Search,” database, Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogy Research (http://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search/?Tab_ID=3), entry for member Sylvia Elizabeth Blakeslee Rowback, no. 288238.

[18] For example, “D.A.R. Chapter Has First Season Meeting,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 18 September 1937, p. 17, cols. 3-5; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/). “Missionary Tells Experiences on Zamzam to D.A.R Members,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 19 September 1941, p. 25, cols. 6-8; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/). “DAR Chapter Plans to Meet on Thursday,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 13 October 1959, p. 25, col. 5; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[19] “Festival of Nations,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 18 February 1936, p. 13, col. 1; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[20] “Collegiate Center Unit To Hear Talk on Books,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 14 January 1937, p. 10, col. 6; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[21] “Public Library Handles Varied Class of Wants,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 4 August 1936, p. 4, col. 3; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[22] “Social Notes,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 30 September 1972, p. 12, col. 3; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/). Sylvia E. Rowback, Niskayuna, Death Notice, The (Schenectady, NY) Daily Gazette, 17 April 2008, p. B7; transcript accessed at America’s News, NewsBank (https://infoweb.newsbank.com/).

[23] “1,400 Historical Volumes Listed,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 27 October 1938, p. 12, col. 5; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[24] “New York, Death Index, 1852-1956,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/nystatedeathindex/), entry for John R. Blakeslee, died 7 February 1955. Death Notices: Blakeslee, Schenectady (New York) Gazette, month and date unknown, 1955, p. 27, col. 7; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[25] “New York, Death Index, 1852-1956,” entry for Mabel M. Blakeslee, died 20 October 1956. “Blakeslee Funeral to Be Private,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 22 October 1956, page number not shown, col. 3; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/).

[26] Find A Grave, memorial 166123199, John R Blakeslee (died 7 February 1955), and memorial 166123200, Mable Blakeslee (died 23 Oct 1956), Park View Cemetery, Schenectady, Schenectady County, New York, Section D Lot 191; no gravestone photographs.

[27] Manning, Schenectady City including Grand Boulevard District of Niskayuna (New York) Directory For Year Beginning September, 1957-1958 (Schenectady: H. A. Manninng Co. of N.Y. Inc., 1957), p. 290.

[28] Manning, Schenectady City including Grand Boulevard District of Niskayuna Directory, 1959-1960, pp. 286 (Blakeslee), 651 (Rowback). In this directory, Sylvia was listed as both “Sylvia E Blakeslee” and as “Sylvia B Rowback (Mrs. Howard).”

[29] Manning, Schenectady City including Grand Boulevard District of Niskayuna Directory, 1961-1962, p. 618.

[30] Social Security Administration, “U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014,” database, Ancestry, (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/ssdi/), entry for Howard Rowback, 1968, SS no. 076-03-7745. “Rowback Dies at 69, Was Deputy,” Schenectady (New York) Gazette, 25 April 1968, p. 33, col. 2; accessed in “Go and Search My Archives,” searchable images, Old Fulton New York Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/). Find A Grave, memorial 166296084, Howard Rowback (died 25 April 1968), Park View Cemetery, Schenectady, Schenectady County, New York, Section D Lot 191; no gravestone photograph.

[31] “Leaving Library.”

[32] “Schenectady County Search,”; Public Access, “Report,” 2210 The Plaza.

[33] Sylvia E. Rowback, Niskayuna, Death Notice. Find A Grave, memorial 166296717, Sylvia E Rowback (died 15 April 2008), Park View Cemetery, Schenectady, Schenectady County, New York, Section D Lot 191; no gravestone photograph.

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