Monday, February 10, 2014

52 Ancestors: #6 Alvah Palmer and a legacy of more February birthdays

After last week's post on the Nortons, it didn't occur to me that I could find another father/son combination born in the same month. But Alvah and Hiram Palmer celebrate their birthdays only one week apart.  In addition, Hiram's birthday falls on February 16, which is also W.W. and Clint Norton's birthday!  That means February 16 is probably the most important single date in our family's history!  I can't believe the coincidence that we would have three grandfathers in our direct line born on the same date.

Let's start with Alvah Palmer, my husband's 3rd great-grandfather .  He was born on 9 February 1796 in Shelburne, Vermont.  We have records of both his birth and his 1816 marriage in Vermont.

The story is that he took his honeymoon trip with new bride, Harriet Hurd, to the wilds of western New York. They were probably escaping the infamous "Summer That Never Was" where frost was killing the crops as late as June.  They settled in the beautiful valley along the Genesee River near a place called Portageville.  Alvah built a sawmill at the Middle Falls in what is now Letchworth State Park.   He also built a cabin there where the Glenn Iris Inn now stands.  The following story has been told through the generations. This is a version from page 181 of A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemmison, first published in 1824. (book is available on Google Books).

In November, 1822, Capt. Stephen Rolph and Mr. Alva Palmer drove a deer into Genesee river, a short distance above the middle falls, where the banks were so steep and the current so impetuous, that it could not regain the shore, and consequently was precipitated over the falls, one hundred and ten feet, into the gulph below. The hunters ran along the bank below the falls, to watch the fate of the animal, expecting it would be dashed in pieces. But to their great astonishment it came up alive, and by swimming across a small eddy, reached the bank almost under the falls; and as it stood in that situation, Capt. Rolph, who was on the top of the bank, shot it. This being done, the next thing to be considered was, how to get their prize. The rock being perpendicular, upwards of one hundred feet, would not admit of their climbing down to it, and there was no way, apparently, for them to get at it, short of going down the river two miles, to the lower falls, and then by creeping between the water and the precipice, they might possibly reach their game. This process would be too tedious. At length Mr. Palmer proposed to Capt. Rolph and Mr. Heman Merwin, who had joined them, that if they would make a windlas and fasten it to a couple of saplings that stood near, and then procure some ropes, he would be let down and get the deer. The apparatus was prepared; the rope was tied round Palmer's body, and he was let down. On arriving at the bottom he unloosed himself, fastened the rope round the deer, which they drew up, and then threw down the rope, in which he fastened himself, and was drawn up, without having sustained any injury. From the top to the bottom of the rock, where he was let down, was exactly one hundred and twenty feet.

Alvah sold his sawmill in the 1820s but continued to live in New York. He died in Hume, Allegany, New York on 30 May 1860. The mortality census lists his age as 66 which would mean he was actually born in 1794. There is some evidence for that year but more research is needed. There are records of land transactions and other dealings in the area.  We are lucky that Alvah is a popular subject for genealogy research due to his importance as an early settler of the Genesee Valley. He also had 8 children who lived to adulthood so his descendants are numerous!

Alvah's 4th son and 7th child, Hiram Palmer, was born somewhere in this area of upstate western New York. It is usually listed as Wyoming County, and assumed to be Middle Falls, near Portageville.  The day of course was February 16; the year 1832.   Hiram married Philena Lydia Palmiter on 17 September 1853 in Portageville. I have plenty of work to do on Hiram and his life. He had 3 sons; the first was born in Michigan in 1856. I have no idea what they were doing that far west. But he must have returned to be near his father as his second son, our ancestor Walter Truman Palmer, was born in Hume New York.

Eventually, the family migrated to Pennsylvania, as both Hiram and Philena died and are buried in Shinglehouse, Potter, Pennsylvania. Hiram lived to be 90 years old, passing on 26 September 1922. Longevity seems to be a family trait as his grandson, Nelson Pattison Palmer, also lived into his 90s.  I am excited to find out more about this family and happy that we get to spend so much time in this beautiful area of New York at the family cottage on Silver Lake. 

I can't leave this line without pointing out another amazing coincidence. Alvah's mother is Chloe Chittenden and he named a daughter Chloe. This Chloe was born in 1830 on . . .  16 February. The name Chloe is also important to me because of my beautiful granddaughter, Chloe Rose Cox. Her name has meaning in so many ways. But to me it means love.


News Flash:

I learned from our first cousin, Eric Wetjen, that the February 16 birthdays have continued to another generation.  His son, Tyler Alan Wetjen, was born on that date and is celebrating his 4th birthday today!
Tyler is the 4th great-grandson of Alvah Palmer.  We're so glad that this handsome young man has continued the tradition!


  1. Love the story of Alvah and the deer, and I think it's amazing we get to spend so much time at Letchworth Park!

  2. Hi:
    I learned about your blog via Jana's Genealogy and Family History Blog.
    Reading it, it struck me that the Wetjen surname sounds very Dutch. Being Dutch myself, I was very much interested. I also have a blog with many genealogical subjects. One of my posts shows a survey of foreign genealogical blogs/sites showing Dutch origin surnames. The URL is The idea is to try and establish contacts between people who have an interest in the same surname. There are numerous cases in The Netherlands where people emigrated centuries ago without leaving a trace in Dutch archives. With my blog I try to bring Dutch and foreign (mainly US/CAN) genealogists together.
    Therefore, I like to have your permission to show your site in my a.m. blog.
    I look forward to your reaction!
    Kind regards,
    PS A quick check in a large Dutch database revealed 110 hits for Wetjen!

    1. Janet:
      Thanks for your permission to show your site on my blog, it is there now. If there is anything you want me to change or add, please let me know. If you want to have a further look in the Dutch database I mentioned, here's an explanation on how to do that:
      Happy hunting!