Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#52Ancestors (48) Wright Spencer - My Ancestral Star!

This #52Ancestors post is all about Wright SPENCER, my great-great-great-grandfather on my maternal side. He is the ancestor that started me on this crazy all-consuming pastime called genealogy.

Wright! Wright! My genealogical light!

Too hokey? Probably.

Wright SPENCER is the first ancestor I discovered that my family didn't know. My grandfather remembered hearing about his own grandfather, Asa SPENCER. But Wright was an intriguing new mystery SPENCER. We had a little leather pouch handed down with some old receipts and slips of paper. One had dates, which turned out be be Wright's life dates, presumably for his gravestone.

leather farm wallet

So...how do I begin researching and finding out who was Wright SPENCER? The likely place to begin was Michigan, since that's where my mother, grandfather and great-grandfather were all born. I learned how to order and use microfilms. Waiting for that spool to arrive just to find a census record was excruciating! But I succeeding in finding Wright with all the correct family names we knew. That's it - I was hooked!

Wright was born in Shaftsbury, Bennington, Vermont on 22 Jan 1811. He was the second child born to Asa SPENCER and Sarah CALKINS. About 1822, the SPENCER family moved west to Town of Sheldon in what was first Genesee County, New York (and later became Wyoming County). They owned farmland just west of the village of Varysburg. Eventually, Wright, his older brother Waterman and their father Asa all owned adjacent farms.

Wright married a local woman, Sarah 'Sally' JOSLIN in 1841. Land records show they purchased acreage in Ingham County, Michigan early in their marriage, but they never moved onto it. They had eight children, all in Sheldon, of which seven reached adulthood. Byron, the son who died, is buried in Varysburg Cemetery with his grandparents.

Wright and Sally and their children (Elizabeth, Benjamin, Asa, Edward, Cordelia, Washington and Addie) permanently moved to Locke Township, Ingham County, Michigan about 1868. How he traveled, I am not certain, but I know he used this trunk:


Wright Spencer's steamer trunk, c 1860, in my living room :)

They prospered in Locke, owning up to 100 acres of mostly farmland. When Wright became too old, Asa managed the farm. Their other children married and moved to various parts of Michigan. Sally died in 1895 and Wright followed in 1899. His death certificate states his cause of death was "softening of the brain" which was likely dementia or other effects of old age. He was a pioneer farmer who lived in three states and made it to 88 years of age.

When I lived in Michigan, I had the chance to meet with a cousin of my grandfather who I discovered was a keeper of photographs. I shared all my excitement over the ancestors I found, and she helped fill in stories and added some family photos. Then finally she had the big winner: a photograph of Wright. 

I shed tears. Like a baby. 

I never expected to see a photo of him. As we discussed Wright and Sally, I think she was measuring my enthusiasm. When our day was over, she hauled a large box from her car and said that I could have it if I liked. It was a 2' x 3' wooden framed charcoal sketch of the same photo made over 100 years ago. It hangs over my genealogy workspace to this day. Thank you, Charlene!

Wright Spencer with grandson, c 1896


Wright was my first real genealogy discovery and I am so happy he watches over me still.


© 2014 Sally Knudsen

2 comments:

  1. Oh Sally, what a marvellous gift! And what a sweet photo as well. Second cousins are gems, in my experience as well. I've found interesting stories, photos, and various ephemera. What a great post - time to get back to mine today - I'm late!

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    1. Thanks Celia! I am grateful every day :)

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