Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sarah DeEtte (Pierce) Chandler is one of my great-great-grandmothers. She was born on 15 December 1851 in Jefferson County, New York, the daughter of Robert Pierce, an immigrant from England, and Julia Sprague, whose family had roots in New England going back to the Pilgrims.

She was the oldest child of the Pierce family. Her parents would have at least six other children: Bertha (1855), Florence (1856), Frances (1857), Charles (1862), Mary (1863), and Fannie (1866). It is likely that there was another child between DeEtte and Bertha. It was typical for women of the period to have a child every other year, since ovulation was suppressed while breast feeding and women often got pregnant after they weaned their children.

The first record that mentions her by name is the 1855 New York State census. Sarah lived in Theresa, Jefferson County with her parents, her sister "Burtha" and her mother's mother Sally Sprague. The family resided in a log cabin, valued at $100.

1855 New York State census, Theresa, Jefferson County.

Five years later, in 1860, the Pierce family lived in Alexandria, Jefferson County. Robert and Julia headed the household, which included their four daughters- Sarah, Bertha, Florence, and Frances; Julia's mother Sally Sprague, Julia's brother Marcellus Sprague and his wife Mary, and a 17-year-old farm laborer, John Dobbin. Robert worked as a farmer, owning $3,060 in real estate and $615 in personal property. Sarah had attended school in the last year.

1860 US Census, Alexandria, Jefferson County, New York.

The Pierce's moved to Lima, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin in the mid-1860s. Robert served in the Union Army in the Civil War and the family moved to Grand Traverse County, Michigan after the conclusion of the war.

Between 1860 and 1868, Sarah began to go by her middle name DeEtte. This has always been an uncommon name. According to the indexed census records on Ancestry.com, there were 30 DeEttes in 1850, 81 in 1860, 186 in 1870, and 133 in 1880. By 1930 there were 386. The variant DeEtta had 13 in 1850, 25 in 1860, 66 in 1870, and 54 in 1880. By 1930 there were 512.

I checked the Social Security Death Index to see whether the name was popular later and saw that of the millions of people who have died in the United States since the 1960s, there have been only 258 DeEttes and 376 DeEttas. I once saw a convenience store clerk with the name and was very surprised. There is no clear origin for the name, it doesn't appear to have been a name plucked from a novel

The only known family heirloom that once belonged to DeEtte is her small leather-bound Bible.

DeEtte (Pierce) Chandler's Bible.

Inside the cover, very faded, are the words "[illegible] Sunday 1868[,] DeEtte Pierce[,] Traverse City, Mich. [,] Aged 18" The title page is missing, so I cannot tell when the Bible was printed.

The 1870 census found DeEtte living with her parents and siblings Bertha, Florence, Frances, Charles, and Mary in Paradise township, Grand Traverse County. DeEtte was now teaching school, perhaps teaching some or all of her siblings in a little one-room schoolhouse.

1870 US census, Paradise township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

Sarah was married on 14 February 1872 in Traverse City to David Green Chandler. Reuben Hatch, a Minister of the Gospel, conducted the ceremony, which was witnessed by Marion Hatch and Mary Knizek. 

Chandler-Pierce Marriage Record, Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

David was born on 3 March 1847 in Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan, the son of William A. Chandler and Fannie Green. Mother Fannie died in 1849 and William soon married a younger woman, Margaret Newman. David grew up in southern Michigan before the family moved north in 1864. He had full siblings Caroline and Winfield and a younger half brother William, who was the black sheep of the family. The only family story to pass down about his siblings were that his sister Caroline liked to smoke a corncob pipe. David spent the years from 1864 to 1869 helping his father clear his land. From 1869 to 1872, he worked elsewhere and "had accumulated some money and considerable property" according to a write-up in a county history book.

Chandler homestead, East Bay township. Left to right: David Chandler, William Chandler, Jr., Winfield Chandler, Margaret (Newman) Chandler, Caroline Chandler, and William Chandler, Sr., circa 1870.

The following two tintype photographs were probably wedding photographs taken at about the time David and DeEtte married.

David and DeEtte, circa 1872.

DeEtte was already pregnant on her wedding day. The couple's son John Gilman Chandler would be born eight months later on 16 August 1873 at Fife Lake. It was relatively common for children to be born a month or two early after marriage. As my mother has said, the first child can come at any time. 

DeEtte would have two more children- Grace Lee Chandler on 23 November 1875 and Garfield David Chandler on 6 May 1881. It isn't known why she did not have as many children as her contemporaries. Perhaps she was practicing birth control, or perhaps she had miscarriages.

The 1880 census lists David and DeEtte and their children John and Gracie as living in Fife Lake township, Grand Traverse County. David was working as a farmer while DeEtte was keeping house, caring for the two young children.

1880 US census, Fife Lake township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

DeEtte was a practicing Christian. On 18 February 1886 the Grand Traverse Herald reported: One of the largest attended and most successful events of the season in this vicinity occurred on the evening of Feb. 12, at the large and commodious farm residence of David Saxton, three and one-half miles east of Kingsley, the occasion being an oyster supper for the benefit of Rev. S. P. Hewitt, our circuit preacher. Before supper the large and merry crowd were entertained with singing and recitations. The supper, consisting of tea and coffee, oysters, cakes and pies of nearly every variety, passed off very successfully, under the efficient management of Mrs. David Saxton and Mrs. David Chandler. After supper a drawing of cakes took place,which ended with a practical joke on the well known rock elm man, Matt. Dudy, who was somewhat astonished on drawing a finely frosted cake to find that it was composed of rock elm, which caused considerable fun at his expense. There were nearly 100 present, who enjoyed themselves immensely. About $15 above expenses, was realized for the pastor.

A photo taken around 1890 shows DeEtte wearing a dark dress with an elaborate, almost Elizabethan collar. 

DeEtte, circa 1885-1890.

Relatively little is known about her life. No family stories were passed down about her. She is mentioned in only a coulple newspaper articles. A Civil War pension file for one of her neighbors mentions that she was the neighborhood midwife, attending Juliana (Krauth) Feiger when she was giving birth. Juliana's son Philip Feiger would later marry DeEtte's daughter Grace.

DeEtte (Pierce) Chandler and her daughter Grace Chandler, circa 1890-1895.

On 10 January 1891, DeEtte signed her daughter Grace's autograph book: One wrong step often staines the Character for life. your Ma.

DeEtte (Pierce) Chandler's autograph in her daughter Grace's autograph book.

Today this seems like a rather grim thing to inscribe in your child's autograph book. Other saying written in the book are similar in moral nature. I checked to see if the phrase could be found on Googlebooks and was pleased to discover that it was, part of a longer passage describing "Lost Character" printed in The Gem Cyclopaedia of Illustrations by John Gaines Vaughn, published in 1889. It is likely this book was present in the Chandler home and DeEtte chose the sentence and copied it into the book.

Gem Cyclopaedia of Illustrations, 1889, page 80.

DeEtte died unexpectedly from a stroke on 5 July1 898 in East Bay township, Grand Traverse County. The Grand Traverse Herald published an obituary:

"Death of Mrs. D.G. Chandler

Mrs. DeEtte Chandler, wife of D.G. Chandler of East Bay, died quite suddenly at her home of paralysis Tuesday afternoon, aged 46 years. Mrs. Chandler had not been in strong health for some time, but was as well as usual the day before her death, and was not taken seriously ill until after breakfast Tuesday, when a sudden stroke of paralysis prostrated her, and death came about two o'clock in the afternoon. The funeral services will be held at noon today, and the burial will take place in Oakwood cemetery.

Mrs. Chandler was prominent in many good works and will be greatly missed, especially among the young people of the Potter school house Sunday school of which she was superintendant, and her loss will be felt deeply by the whole community."

DeEtte (Pierce) Chandler's Death Certificate, Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

DeEtte was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Traverse City. A tombstone was placed over her grave.

DeEtte (Pierce) Chandler's tombstone.

Husband David Chandler would marry again, was elected Sheriff of Grand Traverse County, and died in 1929, outliving all three of his children.

David Green Chandler.

David's grave was unmarked in Oakwood Cemetery until 1972. His grandson Harold Feiger asked his wife Anna and son Fred to purchase a stone for him as a last request as he was dying.

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