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Elizabeth Lee, part 1

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Elizabeth Lee - After Thoughts - Corn HIll

This monument in the Charles G. Lee plot at Mount Hope Cemetery is heavily covered with botanical growth that has been eating away at it for years rendering some of the information indecipherable.

I’m going to whine about the difficulties of historical research. The original owner of my house at 80 Glasgow Street was a widow named Elizabeth Lee. She is a perfect example of how historical records are often obscure or contradictory. According to her obituary, the former Elizabeth Case of Philadelphia was 89 years old when she died in February of 1893. That could mean she was born in 1804. If her birthday occurred later than February, she could have been born in 1803. Her burial record at Mount Hope Cemetery says she was 88 years old (possibly born in 1805?). The obituary goes on to say that she came to Rochester in 1821 at the age of 16. The cemetery record seems more promising.

Elizabeth moved to western New York to live with an uncle, Dr. John D. Henry, reportedly the first physician to come to the village of Rochester. Citing the obituary, she assisted him in his practice by “nursing the sick and…performing the duties of an undertaker.” The doctor’s wife Hannah had recently died, leaving him with 5 small children. But Hannah died December 26, 1821 in Greene, New York, so the doctor probably didn’t come to Rochester until 1822. This also offers a more likely reason Elizabeth Case came to live with her uncle—to help him with those five children. She may have assisted in medical duties as well, but the children would seem to be a more pressing problem.

When Elizabeth married Charles M. Lee on February 10, 1825, a newspaper account said she was the daughter of H. Case, Esq. of Indiana. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Case had moved from Philadelphia to Indiana after Elizabeth arrived in Rochester, but the inconsistency must be noted. A subsequent census record confirms that Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania.

Charles M. Lee, an attorney from Lyme, Connecticut, arrived in 1821. I can confirm this information. In the Rochester Telegraph of August 14, 1821, an advertisement appeared announcing that Charles M. Lee just “opened an Office in the village of Rochester.” An article appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle on February 16, 1874 entitled “Lyme, The Connecticut Town Where the Lawyers all Came From.” Charles and his brother E. Smith Lee were both listed.

Less than a year after Charles married Elizabeth Case, Dr. Henry remarried. His bride’s name was Elizabeth Case! As though my head were not spinning enough already, another family twist took place.

Charles Lee had been previously married although I don’t his wife’s name. Did she die in Connecticut or Rochester? They had a son Charles G. Lee who was born on May 5, 1814. Mount Hope Cemetery records say he was born in Rochester but that can’t be right because his birth would predate his father’s arrival in the village. Years later, he married Dr. Henry’s daughter Caroline—one of those children that his stepmother may have come to the village to care for back in 1822!

Other complications also make people difficult to track. Prior to 1850, census records only list the head of the household. Other family members are grouped by gender and age. For example, in 1830 there are 7 people living in the Charles M. Lee household: a male between the ages of 40 through 49 (presumably Charles M.); another male, 15 through 19 (Charles G.); there are three females between 20 and 29—Elizabeth would have been one, the others may have been servants; a male between ages 20 through 29 and a female between 10 and 14. I have no idea who they were.

Mount Hope Cemetery opened in October of 1838. People who died prior to that date, buried in other cemeteries, were sometimes moved to this new location years after their deaths. Both of Dr. Henry’s wives are with him even though Hannah died in 1821.

Monuments and grave markers can provide useful facts. The monument in Charles G. Lee’s plot lists his children including dates of their births and deaths. But weather conditions such as acid rain and botanical growth have rendered the information difficult, if not impossible, to read.

Everything I’ve described so far, took place in the Fifth Ward on St. Paul Street. Next month, I will tell you how Elizabeth (Case) Lee ended up in the Third Ward to build my house.