In May 2018, I was contacted by Mary-Catherine Burton, wife of Charles Edward Yerks. Charles is a descendant of Frank Yerks and Annie Bullock. She was interested in developing a family tree for her husband. While I was able to provide her some guidance with researching her husbands branch of the Yerks Family Tree, I sadly had to inform her that nobody has ever been able to connect that branch to the larger Yerks family of Philipsburg / Westchester County.
The greatest challenge Yerks researchers have faced in making the connection is a lack of records. New York State did not mandate BMD (Birth, Marriage, and Death) records until about 1880 and it was not until almost two decades later that most communities began serious compliance.
However, there is a valuable manuscript written by Grenville C Mackenzie in 1966 titled “Families of the Colonial Town of Philipsburg”. This manuscript provides a fairly accurate family tree of a large part of the Jurckse (Yerks) family. But the manuscript only contains those Yerks family members born before 1818 or so.
And there is plenty of missing information. Herein lies the problem,
His name is Ezra Yerks. He is the earliest descendant of this branch of the family. According to several Census records, he was born circa 1808 in New York State. Now, that should obviously put him in range of being included in Mackenzie’s manuscript, but there is no Ezra Yerks’s anywhere in the manuscript. This means either that he was undiscovered at the time of Mackenzie’s research or he is not a member of the New York Yerks family. It was my opinion that the latter was extremely unlikely. That meant that we would have to find another way to connect him to the family.
After being contacted by Mary, I decided to begin doing some research to find that other way. Mary is new to genealogy research, but she clearly has a talent for it. She found numerous documents and newspaper stories related to her husband’s branch of the family that I had never seen before. Some of her research is responsible for helping me make a case for connecting Ezra Yerks to the larger Yerks family tree. So, thank you, Mary.
The Circumstantial Case
There is no single “smoking gun” fact that makes the connection. But I do believe that I have documented enough evidence to say Ezra Yerks is the son of Harmon Yerks and Susanah See. Harmon and Sussanah are my wife’s 5th Great Grandparents.
Without Mackenzie’s research, there is no doubt that we would struggle to build the early Yerks family tree today. But we should also recognize that there could be errors or omitted information, where accidental or intentional. In fact, according to records found in the old Dutch Church, Harmon’s wife’s name was Susannah, not Sara as indicated in the snippet below. In taking a look that the section covering the family of Harmon Yerks and Susannah See, we see an eight-year unusual pause between having their sixth and seventh child. On average, they were having children every two to three years. Mackenzie clearly leveraged the Old Dutch Church records in developing the family groupings. All seven of the children listed here are found in the Old Dutch Church Records. But Ezra is not and I cannot explain why. I will say that the Yerks surname, as well as some first names, are spelled inconsistently in the Old Dutch Church Records. So he could be in there, but possibly transcribed as something else.
There is a clear possability that Harmon and Susannah had another child between 1804 and 1810. That child could be Ezra, with a birth date of 1808. He fits perfectly.
What’s In A Name?
As I mentioned earlier, the name “Ezra” is not seen anywhere in the Mackenzie Manuscript. Yet there are THREE Ezra’s all living in Westchester around the same time in the mid-1800’s. Coincidence? Unlikely. So who are they?
Ezra Yerks #1 (b. circa 1808, d. between 1870 and 1880)
The first Ezra is obviously the main subject of this article. He was born circa 1808 in Westchester County, New York. He married Rachel See and together, they had at least one child. His name was Albert (Elbert [sic]) Osborn Yerks. We can find Ezra, Rachel and/or Albert Osborn in the following census records
- 1850: Ossining, Westchester, New York, USA
- 1860: Mount Pleasant, Westchester, New York (Pleasantville)
We last see this Ezra as an inmate at the Westchester County Almshouse (Poor House) in the 1870 Census. The Westchester County Almshouse was located in Eastview, which is the Town of Mount Pleasant. According to the Almshouse record for him, he was admitted in 1867 as a 69-year-old male suffering from some form of paralysis. His age in this Almshouse record doesn’t quite match his birth year, but the recorder of this information could have easily incorrectlty guessed at his age, based on his appearance. The Almshouse record indicates that his previous occupation was a Shoemaker.
In the remarks, we get a glimpse of how Ezra felt about being admitted to the Almshouse.
“This is a Christian like man who had a great dislike to become a pauper. He asserted on his arrival here that he would rather die than be obligated to become a member of a poorhouse, but since has changed his mind and says he is contented.”
The Almshouse record asks numerous questions of the inmate. But there is one in particular, that provides us with what we Genealogists call “a clue.”
- Q: Have the parents or other relatives been thus aided? If so, state the fact.
- A: One brother has received support out door [sic]
This is an important clue as you will learn later. Also according to the Almshouse record, Rachel died before Ezra was admitted. And since she is seen in the 1860 Census, that means she died between 1860 and 1867. We do not know anything more about her at this time.
We don’t see this Ezra Yerks in the 1880 Census, bringing us to the conclusion that he must have died between 1870 and 1880.
Ezra Yerks #2 (B. circa 1830 in New York, d. 7 April 1890 in Chappaqua, New York.)
This Ezra Yerks is the son of John Van Tassel Yerks and Fanny Unknown. John Van Tassel Yerks is the son of the Harmon Yerks and Susanah See, mentioned above.
Ezra never married. Newspaper articles tell us that he managed Cowdins farm in Chappaqua. New York. According to articles published throughout the New England area, he died with a small fortune of hidden gold, silver, copper, and paper money in his mattress. The value in 1890 was $3947. In today’s currency, the value would be worth more than $150,000.
Ezra Yerks #3 (b. circa 1836/39, d. 1893)
This Ezra is the son of William Yerks and Maria Unknown. William is Colleen’s Great x4 Grandfather and the son of the same Harmon Yerks and Susanah See mentioned above. This Ezra was admitted to the Almshouse in 1892 and died there in 1893. Ezra’s sister, Armenia, was also an inmate of the Almshouse.
With “Ezra” being an unusual name in the Yerks family, could there be a close relationship between the three of them? Clearly, two of the three are very closely related, Ezra #2 and #3 are first cousins, sharing Harmon Yerks and Susanah See as their common Grandparents. This means the father’s of Ezra #2 and #3 are brothers. It makes sense that these two fathers may have named one of the children after their brother, further building the circumstatial case that Ezra is the son of Harmon and Susaanah See.
How Does Wildy Yerks fit in?
The 1905 New York State Census shows us that Frank Yerks, Grandson of Ezra Yerks, is living with his first wife, Mary, in Mount Pleasant, New York. Also living with them is a “Wildly Yerks” who is 16 years, the senior, to Frank. So who is Wildey Yerks and how does he fit into the family tree. It’s such an unusual name, you would think finding records about him would be easy. Well… not so much. After extensive research, Mary and I were able to find Guardianship papers at the Westchester County Archives and Civil War Pension Papers at Fold3.com that would help solve the mystery.
To make a very long, albeit interesting story, much shorter, Wildey Yerks and his sister, Rachel Jane Yerks, are children of Rachel Jane See or Lee [sic] and William H Yerks. William H Yerks is the son of John Van Tassel Yerks and the Grandson of the Harmon Yerks and Susanah See, mentioned above. William died on 23 March 1864 in Alexandria, Virginia while serving in the United States Army. Incredibly, his wife Rachel, died just a week later by an unknown cause, leaving both children without parents. John Van Tassel Yerks, the children’s Grandfather petitioned the courts to have Levi Hunt of the Town of New Castle appointed at their Guardians and was so granted.
Families stick together and help out when they can. It is likely that Frank offered Wildey room and board for a period of time in order to help out a family member…. or in this case, second cousins.
- Harmon > John VT Yerks > William H Yerks > Wildey Yerks
- Harmon > Ezra Yerks > Albert Osborn Yerks > Frank Yerks
The William & Maria Yerks Relationship
We know from other research, that William Yerks, father to the Ezra #3 spent time and died at the Westchester County Almshouse. According to the record, Williams wife passed away before he was admitted as an inmate. But there is an even more interesting fact disclosed in the record.
- Q: Have the parents or other relatives been thus aided? If so, state the fact.
- A: Yes, a brother and a daughter.
Remember… Ezra #1 Almshouse record also mentions that he had a brother who received Almshouse Support. It makes logical sense that the brother mentioned in both records are each other.
The Property Transaction Appearing to Name the Heirs of Harmon and Susannah See Yerks
On 24 September 1840, John Van Tassel Yerks and what appears to be the surviving children of Harmon and Susannah Yerks, complete the sale of two land parcels, one 1.25 acre parcel and the other, 15 acres in Mount Pleasant to John Jamison. Harmon died on 17 Oct 1838 in Chappaqua. I could not find a Will for him but it appears that he had already sold his land in Chappaqua (New Castle) in 1837, just after his wife passed away.
Those listed in the transaction are :
|Sarah Boice||This is Sarah Yerks, oldest daughter of Harmon and Susannah Yerks. She was born circa 1791 and married Jacob Boice / Boyce, who must have passed away prior to this transaction.|
|John V Yerks and Fanny, his wife||John Van Tassell Yerks is the second son of Harmon and Susannah Yerks. He was born in 1798.|
|Joseph Forshay and Jane, his wife||This is Jane Yerks, third daughter of Harmon and Susannah Yerks. She was born 17 Oct 1796.|
|William Yerks and Mariah, his wife||William is the third son of Harmon and Susannah. He married someone named Mariah. He died in the Almshouse in 1876.|
|Henry Yerks and Julyan, his wife||Henry Yerks is the fourth son of Harmon and Susannah. According to MacKenzie, he married someone named Elizabeth, but she could be using her middle name here.|
|Ezra Yerks||***This, I believe, is our Ezra, born in 1808, making him the fifth son of Harmon and Susannah.**|
|Hiram Peatlow and Mary, his wife||Mary may be another undocumented child of Harmon and Susannah Yerks. More research is needed here.|
|Peter Odle and Lettisha, his wife||This is Lea Yerks, third daughter of Harmon and Susannah, born 7 March 1811. She is the youngest child of the family.|
|Henry Van Tassell and Susan, his wife||As the document states, Susan is an heir to Isaac. Isaac is the second son of Harmon and Susannah Yerks.|
|Phebe Yerks||Again, as the document states, Phebe is an heir to Isaac. Isaac is the second son of Harmon and Susannah Yerks.|
Although it would be better to find Harmons Will, listing Ezra as an heir, in my opinion, this is pretty conclusive evidence that Ezra is the child of Harmon and Susannah See Yerks.
Daniel Van Tassels Notes on Yerks Genealogy
Several years ago, I visited the New York Public Library to do some genealogy research on the Yerks family and found a folder full of Yerks research, recorded by Daniel Van Tassell. In it, is a page containing Harman Yerk’s family that clearly lists Ezra without a birth date.
It is quite possible that Daniel Van Tassell came to the same conclusion that I did, based on the land transfer document. But no matter what, it all seems to be going in the same direction.
A Bit of Irony
As it turns out, in 1815, Harmon and Susanah Yerks deeded a large piece of property in Mount Pleasant for the FIRST Almshouse or Poor House of Westchester County. When the county built the larger Almshouse in Eastview, the sale of this property required a new law by the State Legislature in order to allow for the property to be legally sold. You have to wonder whether Harmon and Sussanah predicted that so many of their descendants would need help in the future.
As mentioned earlier, there is no “smoking gun” to connect Ezra Yerks, b circa 1808 to Harmon and Susanah See Yerks, but there are plenty of indicators showing that this may indeed be the case. Pertinent negatives should also be considered. However, there does not appear to be ANY evidence anywhere else in the tree that would conflict with this conclusion. If there is any newly discovered evidence after this article is published, I will add it to the bottom of this article.