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Family History & Genealogy Research

Some Family History (A Work in Progress)
Bits and Pieces of Family Lore- Where Do My Ancestors Come From?
By Carol Prescott McCoy, Ph.D. July 2007

My interest in family history started as a child from listening to my grandparents, who were wonderful story tellers. Both my father's parents lived into their 90s and my mother's mother lived to be 95. They were all colorful characters and made me intensely curious about their origins. I was especially intrigued by my grandmother's father, Sam Pollak, who literally drowned before her eyes when she was a baby! I was also very curious to learn about the McCoy family to see if they had anything to do with the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud of West Virginia. While my McCoy ancestors are from "West By God Virginia", they seem to have been fairly peaceful farmers, well educated, rather civilized lawyers, who liked to sing.

My grandfather Paul McCoy, upper left hand corner c. 1896
in the Glee Club, University of West Virginia Yearbook

Besides being wonderful story tellers, my family has always liked to take pictures and hang on to memorabilia, such as old autograph books and yearbooks, and diaries. I have enjoyed learning about the people who owned these precious objects and documents, and meeting many people along the way.

Scottish, Irish, Welsh and West Virginia Roots

On my father's side my roots are deep within West Virginia, the place where John McCoy a Scot Irish weaver and his wife, Easter McCarty, and their children (including Joseph McCoy, my g-g-grandfather) migrated from County Tyrone Ireland in the early 1800s. They arrived in Wilmington, Delaware on the Mohawk from Londonderry in 1802 and originally came to the Shenandoah Valley. Eventually they traveled through Pennsylvania and floated down the Ohio River to Ohio County Virginia, settling on Middle Island Creek, the longest creek in the world that is not called a river. It is incredibly windy. In 1808 John McCoy bought some farm land on "the loop" about two miles below Middlebourne. From the map below, which is a large map under glass at the Tyler County Heritage and History Museum in Middlebourne, WV, you can see that there are many, many loops in Middle Island Creek!

Map (circa 1880s) of Tyler County at the Tyler County Heritage Museum
in Middlebourne, West Virginia. Digital Photo by Carol McCoy

Joseph McCoy, junior, a son of John McCoy, was called junior because there was an older Joseph McCoy (his Uncle) who lived in the area. Joseph was born in Ireland about 19 Feb 1786. He came with his family to the US in 1802 and was a farmer. He lived with his father, who died in 1816, and in 1824 Joseph married at a fairly old age Jane Martin, daughter of Martha Bryson and Joseph Martin.

The tombstones of Joseph McCoy and Jane Martin in the Poly Archer Cemetery in Tyler county are the only public record of their deaths. This small cemetery is located in a distant field separate from the main cemetery which is next to the Poly Archer chapel not too far from Middlebourne. Many families were torn by the Civil War, especially those in WV. Those who sympathized with the South were buried in the field cemetery, and those who sympathized with the North were buried next to the chapel.

Tombstone of Joseph McCoy who died 1 Nov 1877,
age 92. Digital photograph by Carol P. McCoy

While there is no official death record for Joseph or Jane McCoy, I know exactly when he died. I actually have a letters written by Ralph Gorrell (son in law of Joseph McCoy and brother in law of John W. McCoy) to John W. McCoy. These pencil written letters describe the illness and death of Joseph McCoy on the 1st of November in 1877. Apparently Joseph, who outlived his wife by four years, was glad to meet his maker and died without a struggle or groan.

The ancestors of Jane Martin came to Dover New Hampshire (NH) in the 1600s. Several Martins migrated to New Jersey (NJ). John Martin was one of the founders of the town of Piscataway NJ in 1666 (where Carol McCoy later went to graduate school at Rutgers). Descendants Joseph Martin and his father John Martin fought with New Jersey troops in the Revolutionary War. By the late 1700s the Martins migrated to Western Pennsylvania and then floated down the Ohio River to become early settlers of Ohio county Virginia (later called Tyler county West Virginia.) Joseph McCoy and Jane Martin's children were all born in Tyler county WV.

Their son, John William McCoy, my great-grandfather, was born in 1826. He worked on the family farm until he was about 21, then studied law with John Horner, and became a lawyer. Law was a smart profession given the confusion surrounding land boundaries and the frequent land disputes in court. In the course of his law practice, John W. McCoy, met his law partner's sister-in-law, Delia Maria Evans who lived in Morgantown, Monongalia county, Virginia (later WV). Delia was the daughter of Rawley Evans, and grand-daughter of the Monongalia county pioneer settler, Colonel John Evans. They married in Morgantown in 1855. Rawley Evans, Delia's father, and John W. McCoy posted bond for the wedding.

Delia Maria Evans and John William McCoy
(photograph courtesy of Ellen Sutton)

John Evans, was the son of John Evans, whose family came from Wales to Philadelphia in the early 1700s. After his father died of a snake bite when he was a young lad, John Evans was raised by his mother in the area that became Fairfax Virginia. John Evans married Rebecca Ann Martin (not related to the other Martins) and began a family. After the Proclamation of 1763 forbid settling west of the Alleghenies, John Evans decided that was the place to be. He and his wife, his mother, a tutor, some children and some slaves, traveled to Fort Cumberland, Maryland, where they waited out the Indian hostilities.

In the late 1760s John Evans traveled down the Monongalia River and claimed a tomahawk right to some land in Augusta (later Monongalia county) Virginia below what would become Morgantown in 1785. John Evans was an early county clerk, served as the county lieutenant, defending the large border against the Indians and fought in Lord Dunmore's War and the Revolutionary War. He lived into his nineties, finally receiving his Revolutionary War pension for the last two years of his life.

John Evans and Rebecca Ann Martin raised a large family, which included a son Rawley Evans (for whom my father was named). Many people have joined the D.A.R through his service. Supposedly George Washington when he was surveying the area once slept in John Evans' cabin, which is why it was preserved for such a long time. Having perused the journals of George Washington, I found no reference to such a visit, but it certainly seems likely. Supposedly the cabin was of particularly high quality. I like the photo below, which can be seen at the WV Regional Collection at the University of WV in Morgantown, WV.

Colonel John Evans' Cabin in Morgantown, WV.
Unknown Man in front of the cabin. (Ghost in window?)
Photograph from the WV Regional Collection, Morgantown

I have been fortunate to receive some of his letters and documents from the mid to late 1800s. Their son, Paul McCoy, obtained his law degree from West Virginia University in 1898. (I have his college year book from 1896. The photo of Paul McCoy in the glee club is from this year book.) Paul McCoy moved to New York City to make his fortune in the early 1900s and wed the lovely Irma Constance Pollak (Pollock) in 1909. He supposedly told Irma that he would marry her on their first date and she said "like hell you will." But as you can see, marry her he did.

Wedding Photo of Paul McCoy and Irma Pollak
9 Feb 1909, NYC (family photo)

Austria to New York City

My father's mother's family, the Pollaks, came from Austria to New York in the 1860s. Her great-grandfather, Samuel Pollock/Pollak, was a dry goods merchant who started the first dollar store in the South in Montgomery Alabama. He was the buyer for the business in NYC with an office on Chambers Street. The store was in Montgomery Alabama. It became The Montgomery Fair and eventually Dillard's, which is still in operation as of 2007!

Picture of Pollak & Co. from a Montgomery Alabama Panoramic Map
located in the Alabama Archives, Montgomery Alabama

Samuel Pollak married Julia Wollner, who came from a large family who also emigrated from Austria to NYC in the 1860s. They were butchers who lived in lower Manhattan. Samuel Pollak married Julia Wollner in NYC in November of 1874. Sam was supposedly a 26 year old merchant, born in Hungary, the son of Jacob Pollak and Charlotte Deutsch. Julia Wollner was 23 born in Hungary to Koppelman Wollner and Caroline Fleischman.

Marriage Certificate of Sam Pollak and Julia Wollner, NYC Archives

Sam and Julia began to raise a large family. By July of 1883 their children Albin, Rudolph, Alice, Wilma, and Irma Constance were born. Their youngest child, Semele, was conceived shortly before Sam drowned in front of the entire family in 1883 at the New Jersey shore. Semele who was born in April of 1884 was named for her father. (See my article on the drowning of Sam Pollak.) Five of the children graduated from college. Julia, who lived off Sam's life insurance and properties, never remarried and outlived her husband by over 50 years!

Samuel Pollock and Mrs. Julia Pollock about 1882 Washington, D.C.
Photos sent by someone who found them in an antique store in Kentucky!

Surprising Jewish Roots

I was quite intrigued to learn of my maternal grandmothes Jewish roots since Connie McCoy was a practicing Episcopalian. The families of both her parents-Sam Pollak and Julia Woller were Jewish and spoke Yiddish. (One of my grandmother's sisters, Wilma Pollock, wrote The Upps of Suffolk Street, about a Jewish matchmaker named Kuppelman Upp, who must have been named for Koppelman Wollner, her grandfather.) Apparently Sam and Julia decided that it would be easier to be Protestant than Jewish and were married by a minister. Nevertheless, Julia's parents, Koppelmann Wollner and Caroline Fleischman, are buried in the Jewish cemetery, Salem Fields on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, NY.

Unbeknownst to me Sam Pollak's brother Ignatius (born Ignaz) continued to maintain his Jewish faith. Until my research, I never knew Sam had a brother, who had been a guardian of my grandmother after her father drowned. Ignatius Pollak, who continued to run Pollak's Dollar Store in Montgomery Alabama, was a prominent Jew in Montgomery and Cullman Alabama. He was a successful business man and philanthropist in Cullman.

From England to New London, Connecticut to the Catskills of New York

My mother's father, Prescott Barker Wiske, is descended from a colorful character, Johnny Whiskey, who was impressed into the British navy at an early age. He fought at the Battle of Trafalgar and came to America having been captured aboard the Macedonian during the War of 1812. Since our young nation had so few frigates, Stephen Decatur decided to salvage the Macedonian for American use rather than sink her. Johnny Whiskey was held prisoner with the surviving crew of the Macedonian in a barn in New London, Connecticut.

Battle of the United States and the Macedonian from
Thirty Years Beyond the Mast by Samuel Leech

Johnny Whiskey managed to escape and within three months married Betsey Rogers, daughter of Ichabod Rogers, also a Revolutionary War veteran. They were married in early 1813. I found the newspaper announcement which said that Betsey Rogers married Mr. John Whiskey of the Kingdom of Great Britain, as if we weren't even at war with them. Apparently they were married in a British sympathizing neighborhood. The Rogers were descended from the Rogerenes, a strange religious sect in the New London area. (Naturally I knew nothing of my actual New London roots while I attended Connecticut College in New London.)

John and Betsey raised several children in New London, including my gg- grandfather, Charles Henry Whiskey. Some time before 1820 (when John Whiskey appears in the US census in Greene county NY) Johnny and Betsey Whiskey settled in the beautiful town of Catskill, Greene county, New York. After surviving the British navy, Johnny Whiskey supposedly died unloading tea from a ship in 1829. His 39 year old widow, Betsey Whiskey, who had teenage children, married Andrew Brizee. At the NY State Archives, I found their marriage announcement in a Catskill paper. Betsey Whiskey, age 39 and Andrew Brizee, age 19, were the only couple whose ages were mentioned in the paper. Eventually the Whiskey and Brizee family moved to Troy NY, some settled in Hoosic NY and others in Bennington, Vermont.

From Bennington, Vermont to Troy, NY to Brooklyn NY, to New Jersey and Maine

Charles Mortimer Wiske, grandson of Johnny Whiskey and my greatgrandfather, was born in 1853 in Bennington to Charles Henry Whiskey and Louisa Boynton, daughter of Paul Boynton, who served in the Revolutionary War. Supposedly Louisa had perfect pitch and a lovely voice. Charles Henry Whiskey (later Wiskey) moved to Troy, NY where he ran a parasol shop on Congress Street.

Their son, Mortimer showed early genius as a musician, becoming an organist for a local chapel in Hoosic at the age of nine! Mortimer lived for a while in Troy, NY eventually moved to Brooklyn NY where he made his living as a composer, choral director and music teacher. He founded several choral groups and also was an active producer of the Newark Wagner Festivals of the 1880s. A popular choral director, he actually conducted a chorus of over 3,000 voices. One reviewer said that what it lacked in quality, it made up for in volume!

Charles Mortimer Wiske in 1890
from the Brooklyn Eagle online

In Brooklyn in 1875 Mortimer Wiske married the lovely 16 year old singer, Elizabeth Emma Demott. The bride's mother, Emma Hart Demott, was descended from an old Long Island NY family. She was the daughter of Lemuel Hartt (Hart), a shipwright, who lived in Smithtown NY and in NY City, and Tabitha Darling, daughter of Adam Darling of Smithtown. The Darlings, Harts, and Demotts all came to Suffolk county NY in the 1600s.

Lizzie Wiske died young on Christmas day in 1907 in NJ. My ggrandfather Mortimer married "Aunt Fanny" Stanley who was a singer and pianist in Mortimer's musical group. Mortimer had bought land in Bryant Pond (Woodstock) Maine in 1903 which he ran as a music camp, "Birch Villa." I have a caricature that the famous singer Enrico Caruso drew of Mortimer (below).

My ancestors began summering in Maine in the early 1900s. Birch Villa ultimately became a summer resort after Mortimer died in 1935. Fanny sold Birch Villa but continued to run Birch Villa's kitchen for many years. I summered in Maine as an infant and moved to Maine in 1991. I still visit Birch Villa, which is now a private home.

Birch Villa Music Camp, Bryant Pond Maine Family photo

By the early 1930s Mortimer Wiske finally moved to Bryant Pond. When C. Mortimer Wiske died in 1935 there were numerous articles on his death from papers in Maine, New York, and New Jersey. Fanny Wiske pasted his obituaries into Mortimer's autograph book, which he began during the Civil War. By some miracle, I am the lucky custodian of it.

New York City to Westchester County New York

My father, Rawley Deering McCoy, an electronic engineer, and his brother were born in Nutley New Jersey and raised in Greenwich Village NY. His sister, Carol, was born in Havana Cuba where my grandfather, Paul McCoy, was on business. The McCoy family moved to Bronxville NY when he was fairly young.

Rawley Deering McCoy as a boy scout
(family photo)

My mother, Jane Wiske, a gifted artist, was born and died in Bronxville. Her parents, Prescott Barker Wiske and Kathryn Utz, moved from NYC to Mount Vernon (next to Bronxville) in the 1890s. They were married in Mount Vernon. Several of my teachers taught my mother at Bronxville High School.

Jane Wiske at age 16
(family photo)

More German and English Ancestors to New York City

My great grandfather, John Utz (my mother's maternal grandfather) was born in NYC in 1857 to a German immigrant, Johannes Utz, who came to America as an orphan around 1850 when he was about 20 years old. e married Antoinette Huppach in 1853 in St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in NYC. Johannes (John) Utz died in 1882 in NYC.

Death Certificate of John Utz, Sr., NYC Archives

John Utz was a highly successful contractor and builder and contributed several beautiful homes, which still stand today in Bronxville NY.

Business card of John Utz
(family possession)

John Utz married Amalie Neander, whose father, Theodore Neander, came to NYC from Bremerhaven (Geestendorf) Germany at age 15 during the turbulent 1840s. Theodore Neander was a struggling grocer in NYC and he married Jane Victoria Ferrier, whose family came from Barnard Castle in Durham England during the 1830s. Jane, the youngest of a very large family, was born in NYC to John and Ann Ferrier. The Ferriers were in the water bottling business and apparently knew the Neanders through their grocery business. In the 1860 US Census you can see that the newly married Theodore and Jane Neander lived next to the widow Ann Ferrier in NYC. Amalie Neander (aka) Mollie was born in the 1860s in NYC. She died in the 1920s in Bronxville, NY.

Amalie Neander Utz
(family photograph)

My grandmother, Kathryn Mildred Utz, was born in Mount Vernon, NY, and much to her dismay, died in Texas. She was a charming and vivacious woman who learned to drive long before there were any driving requirements. She learned to stop by crashing into some bushes in the yard since her brother forgot to tell her where the brakes were!

Beautiful pastel drawing of Kathryn Wiske
by her daughter Jane Wiske McCoy

Kathryn Utz, daughter of the great builder, John Utz, married the dashing Prescott Barker Wiske, who was an electronic engineer who graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ (as did my father.) He died just before DDay in WW II.

Prescott Barker Wiske at Bryant Pond, Maine 1905

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