Wayne County Family Biographies


By Frank G. Dennis

Pamela Green, editor of the Kalamazoo Valley (Michigan) Genealogical Society Newsletter, purchased a Bible for $ 20 at a used book store in Kalamazoo in December 1999. The only clue to the owner was a hand-written note on the flyleaf "Samuel Dennis's Property. Lyons. Sept. 9, 1830", but four pages between the Old and New Testaments listed many names and dates under "Births" and "Deaths". Surnames included Dennis, Gifford, Riggs, York, and Watson. Checking a United States atlas revealed seven towns named "Lyons" in as many states. Printed indexes to the 1850 census were then consulted, and the best match with Samuel Dennis, plus Giffords, Yorks and Riggses, was near the hamlet of Zurich in the Town of Arcadia in Wayne County, N.Y. On consulting the census records themselves, many of the persons named in the Bible were found to have been neighbors at that time.

Pamela then contacted the Wayne County GenWeb Project Coordinator, Martha Magill, who forwarded the information to both the Wayne County Historian's Office and Frank Dennis of Lansing, Mich., who is a native of Wayne County and the g-g-g-grandson of Samuel Dennis' s uncle, Moses. Frank has been tracking the descendants of Thomas Dennis (1638-1706), a joiner (furniture maker) of Ipswich, Mass., had many of the names in the Bible in his computer file, and was able to provide information as to the comings and goings of the family. Although he grew up in the Town of Rose, not far from Zurich, he never knew of his relationship to Samuel' s family until many years later.

Here's the story: Samuel5 Dennis (1776-1855) (Arthur4 - John3 - John2 - Thomas1), one of the thirteen children of Arthur Dennis (1745-1825) and Mary Goodhue (1749-1819), was born in southern New Hampshire, and married Sarah Dix (1779-1850). In 1810 the family, together with the families of several of Samuel' s brothers, relocated to E. Newportland, on the Kennebec River in Kennebec Co., Maine. Following the War of 1812, Samuel and Sarah, together with the families of Samuel' s siblings Joseph, Moses, Lucy (Cummings) and Frances (Lane), moved to Zurich. Here Samuel and Sarah lived out the rest of their days, and here they were buried.

Samuel and Sarah's nine children were all young and unmarried when the family arrived in Zurich. Their children, all listed in the Bible (together with many of their descendants), were: James P. (1797- 1837), [m. (1) Phoebe Beach, and (2) Sarah Carll]; Joseph Dix (1799-1879) [m. Sarah Carll' s cousin, Love]; Edith A. (1801-1822) [m. Thomas York]; Mary G. (1803- ) [m. Thomas' s brother, Robert York Jr.]; Lucy C. (1805-1882) [m. her first cousin, Gilman Dennis]; Sally (1807-1870) [m. brother-in-law Thomas York after the death of his wife, Edith]; Frederick A. (1809-1881) [m. Lydia Riggs]; Caroline F. (1811-1872) [m. Lewis Watson]; and Eunice P. (1813-1855) [m. Lilly H. Gifford]. (York Settlement in the Town of Huron was so named for the Yorks, including Thomas and Robert Jr' s parents, Robert and Mary, also from Maine, who settled there with their six children about 1815.) James and Joseph, although but teen-agers, were old enough to help Samuel cut down the forest. Joseph's grandson, William D. Dennis of Kalamazoo, Michigan, recalled his grandfather's stories of the men carrying grain on their backs to Sodus, some 10 miles to the north, to be ground. When Joseph needed extra money, he walked to Oaks Corners, about 10 miles in the opposite direction in Ontario County to work, often returning at night and carrying a torch to avoid wolves. According to William, Joseph suffered many setbacks in buying and holding property, but owned one of the best farms in the area at the time of his death in 1878.

Of the nine children, at least four were to continue west to Michigan. Early in the 1830s James P. Dennis6 and wife Sarah moved to Michigan with their family. Although Joseph6 and his wife Love Carll remained in Zurich, at least four of their 11 children [Phoebe (Minnis), Sarah (Burgess), Edith (Roby), and Leonard] also migrated to Michigan.

But back to the Bible -- Pamela Green offered to sell the Samuel Dennis Bible at cost to one of Samuel's descendants, and Carol Dennis of Chicago, daughter of Leonard and Ethel (Putt) Dennis of Williamston, Mich., and a g-g-g-granddaughter of Samuel, now owns it.

Carol was most appreciative of the help and kindness of Pamela and Frank and wrote the following, which she kindly agreed to let us reprint it:

We are all unique, different from everyone else on the planet, distinctive. Yet, we are also descendants of real people, with real talents, professions, interests... how much of that is passed on to us? I have always been interested in genealogy, but hadn't taken the time to do much about it. Then my father was contacted by Frank Dennis; Dad gave me the letter because he knew I was interested in family history. Frank opened up door after door after door for me. He had been researching the Dennis family for a long time. Through him, I learned that I am descended from Thomas Dennis, a well known (even famous?) furniture maker from Ipswich, Massachusetts. Does this explain my lifelong interest in carpentry, building things, and my love for antique wood furniture, especially anything hand carved? This just happens to be the kind of furniture that Thomas Dennis made. Who knows?

Through the kindness and effort of Pamela Green and Frank Dennis, I was able to obtain the family bible of Samuel and Sarah Dennis, my g-g-g-grandparents. What an amazing gift! The feeling of connection, of being part of, not only a line, but a huge extended family, is indescribable. I hope to someday try and build a special "box" of some kind in which to store the bible. I plan on asking my niece (an architect) to help me design it, and would like to try my hand at some kind of carving to honor the history of the family. I took the bible with me on a visit to my parents and my father was very pleased to see it. Thankfully, my granddaughter is interested in family history, and she is just in awe of it. We have spent a considerable amount of time looking through the names, marveling at the handwriting. So, not only does the bible have a home now, but also for the next couple of generations!

How many of our talents, interests, traits are passed down from our ancestors? Probably all of them! It's so sad that we'll never really know, but it is incredible when we find something that threads its way down through the generations. Many thanks to Pamela, who didn't have to make any of the many efforts she made to find an owner for the bible, and to Frank, for making so many connections and opening so many doors.

Carol Dennis

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Created: 12/14/00
Copyright © 2000 Frank G. Dennis/ Carol Dennis
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