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Let the "New" Guide You to the "Old"

by Marian Pierre-Louis


Graveyard in New Woodstock, New York

Recently I've started researching a new family line. Perhaps a better description would long ignored family line. There are so many lines in a family tree that it is very hard to get to them all.

A month or so ago I broke through a brick wall related to my great great grandmother, Charlotte Hill. Only after feeling confident about my findings did I start to work on Charlotte's parents. Remember, we need to work from the known to the unknown.

So I found myself, for the very first time, researching Semira Frizzell, my Charlotte's mother. I've always thought Frizzell was a funny sounding name and with the addition of a first name like Semira it was almost too much for me to take seriously.  It turns out (according to the Annals of the (Frizzell) Frazier Family (1890) by Walter S. Frazier) that Frizzell comes from the Scottish name Fraser.

Through probate and cemetery records I was able to figure out at Semira was born in Cazenovia, Madison County, New York the daughter of Samuel Frizzell and Polly Tiffany.

New York state in the early 1800s is hard to research at best. I started without much of anything. But what I did notice was that many of references surrounding this family mentioned "New Woodstock,"  New York.

I knew that Cazenovia was the true formal location of the family. I also knew that New York has many villages. I guessed that was likely the case with New Woodstock.

To resolve the open question I went to a site I use frequently, the National Association of Counties (NACO). Normally I use this site to look up the counties of the towns I research in. I know from past experience that this site also has the added benefit of describing the legal designation of a place (town, city, village, etc). Interestingly enough (but perhaps not surprisingly), the Type of Place field for New Woodstock came up empty on the NACO site. My suspicion that this was a very small place was reinforced.

My next stop to resolve the issue was Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry for New Woodstock, New York was very short - only two sentences - but it gave me the information I needed. "New Woodstock is a hamlet in the town of Cazenovia, Madison County, New York." Further delving into Wikipedia reveals that a hamlet is a small, rural, unincorporated place.

Why so much fuss about whether New Woodstock is a hamlet, village, town or city? Hamlets can be either outdated place names, once larger places that have dwindled through population loss or they can be names bestowed by the people who settled in a particular area (this is my opinion not a hard core rule).

As a New England girl who grew up in Connecticut I couldn't help but wonder if New Woodstock wasn't really a sentimental reference to a place of origin. While many of you might automatically think of Woodstock, New York, the scene of the famous 1969 music festival, I had Woodstock, Connecticut in my mind. Many New Englanders are well-known to have travelled westward to settle in New York.

With a paucity of New York records, I thought it couldn't hurt to take a quick peek at Frizzles in Woodstock, Connecticut. A search on (Early Connecticut Marriages Database) uncovered a marriage for Samuel Frizzell of (sic) Cazonosia, NY and Polly Tiffany of Ashford, Connecticut on 18 January 1798. While it wasn't Woodstock, Ashford was very close by, also in Windham County Connecticut.

Further research revealed several generations of Frizzells in Woodstock in the book The History of Woodstock, Connecticut: Genealogies of Woodstock Families Vol. 5 (1933) by Clarence Winthrop Bowen.

So my gut reaction was right. New Woodstock was a name bestowed by settlers that harkened back to their family place of origin. By following my instincts I was able to make the connection much easier than if I continued to search in New York for direct evidence. I still have a lot of work  to do ahead of me to verify and prove this family line but I'm so glad my instincts made the discovery process a little quicker.

The next time you come across a town with "New" at the front check the NACO site for it will give you a list of all the places in the United States that have a town or city by that name. Just be sure to drop the "New" when you search.

Let me know how you make out. I would love to hear if anyone else has had success using this technique.


Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.



Photo credit: Creative Commons, Ariana Rose Taylor-Stanley


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