Friday, January 17, 2014

52 Ancestors- #3 Will the Real John Bennem Please Stand Up?



I’m cheating with this week’s post just a little. I discovered that an author had mixed up generations of John Bennems in her book. So in order to talk about one I feel the need to talk about the others. I’m not tearing down this author’s work because she did a detailed job on other branches of the family which was correct and a fantastic resource for Benham researchers. My goal is to show the process that led to the true identities of the numerous Johns in my family. I am using the spelling I have seen more often with this family. Although, the name was originally Benham the family leaned more towards Bennem or Bennum in later generations.

It does not help anyone that there were four generations of John Bennem living in the same area of New York. Add to that other sons in the family naming their sons John and you have a difficult time distinguishing who is who. The easiest way is to start at the beginning. When I first started researching this family I had the help of my grandfather who knew a lot about his family’s history. His maternal grandmother, Amanda Malvina Bennem, died in 1937 when my grandfather was 12 years old. He lived in the same area as she did so he knew her quite well and remembered a lot of the stories she would tell him about her family. I wrote down what he told me and then started to prove or disprove it. I contacted the church that the family attended since the 1830s and was quickly contacted by a member that asked me some questions and then sent me everything he could find about who I was looking for. If only every church was like that!

I quickly found proof that my grandfather’s memory was incredible. Amanda was the daughter of John Bennem and Sarah Elizabeth Cornell. Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, Queens, New York sent me family files they had put together for the members of the church. I was in genealogy Heaven! I had a detailed paper with all the births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, and burials that occurred in the church. I eagerly entered all the information on my Family Group Records (this was before FTM was my genealogy program drug of choice.) I made note of the few things that stood out and then I dug back in to find out more. I found “The Cornell Genealogy” which talked about this family and even gave another book to check out. I was drooling by this point for all the information I was gathering! I ordered a copy of “The Benham Family In America” by Georgiana Hathaway Randall. I turned to the pages I was supposed to and came to a screeching halt. It had John Bennem Jr., #4, (marrying Sarah Cornell) as the son of John Bennem and Catherine R. Cornell, check. It had John Bennem #4 as being born posthumously August of 1837, check on birthdate but posthumously? Something was setting off bells in my head. She listed a family bible record as a source she used so I ordered that, went home and pulled out all my notes. The bells were driving me crazy.

This was the family as Randall had it (Note: She hadn’t linked the families together):

It turned out that what was bugging me were some entries on the form from Zion. Which, put together with the fact that Randall said John Bennem # 3 died in December of 1836 raised more questions than answers.

Question 1- A birth year of 1803 crossed out? Sounds more like his father’s date than his.
Question 2- I know John Bennem #4 died in 1891 so who was the John Bennem who died in 1874?
Question 3- Vestryman in a church at 6 years old???? Has to be another John Bennem
Question 4- It’s hard to read on the scanned image but it says “Must be father of John” in the special interests, talents, activities. Could this be explaining the other entries I had questions about?

So, I contacted the church yet again and asked about the burial in 1874. They responded that they did indeed have a John Bennem being buried in the Zion Church Yard in 1874 but no idea where. After walking around the church for hours on a later trip to New York I was not able to locate a tombstone for John Bennem or his wife. Logically the next step would be determining who this “other” John Bennem is. I Ordered a copy of the will for the John Bennem who died in 1836 and the 1850-1870 censuses. I also got a copy of the will of Catherine Cornell-Bennem’s sister, Elizabeth in 1843. She mentions her sister “wife of John Bennem”. This is 7 years after Catherine supposedly became a widow. Why have her as wife and not widow? He was living with his wife and family in the 1850-1860 censuses and even with his son, John #4, in the 1870. Needless to say after receiving everything I ordered I realized that John Bennem #3 was not the John Bennem who died in 1836 but the one who died in 1874. So who was the John Bennem who died in December of 1836? Well, it was the father of John Bennem #3.

With the Family Bible in hand I went in search of more wills and church records. For the earlier generations I was going to have to go to Kings County since that is where I had located the families in census records. Since the bible did not list relationships I had to use baptismal and death records to do that. I quickly found a baptismal record that proved the John Bennem (#2) who married Johanna Stoothoff could not have died in 1799 like Randall said. He had children born and baptized after 1800, never had a son named Daniel, and none of his children would have been old enough to be married in 1799. I knew John #2 was alive in 1830 since he was in the census but was dead by the time Johanna died in 1843. He has to be the John Bennem who died in 1836. There is an entry in the Family Bible deaths for John Bennem, 31 December 1836. So, there is a connection and since I proved everyone else he seems to be the only likely candidate. So the 1799 will for John Bennem that was previously linked to this John is who?

Surprise! His father, John Bennem #1. Since he will be another blog post eventually I will not go into a lot of detail. The Bible lists the death of Lena Bennem in September of 1781 and the death of John Bennem, 29 January 1799. The 1790 census household for John Bennem #1 is fully accounted for with no room for a wife and in the 1799 will his wife was already deceased. I found an entry for a John Bennem marrying Helena Lake in 1759. John #1 had a son Daniel, not previously found in the family but is the name of Helena Lake’s father. Daniel’s death (15 February 1813) is also mentioned in the Bible belonging to the John Bennem family. The names, dates, etc. all seem to match the parents of John #2. A note: Daniel married Nellie Johnson and they also had a son John who is represented heavily in records of Kings county.

I did not go into detail about the children of these men because they each had quite a few children and this post would have turned into a book. I thought this would be confusing enough for people without adding more names, dates, and places to the equation. That being said below is my determination of the John Bennems of Kings and Queens county.