The Search For the Parents of James Oakley Yerks, Died at Harpers Ferry, 1863

There are several James Yerks born around the same time. They are:

James Yerks

BIRTH 16 AUG 1823 • Ossining, Westchester, New York, United States
DEATH 9 OCT 1880 • Chappaqua, Westchester, New York, United States
This James died in the Civil War and is buried at the old Saint Mark’s Cemetery in Mount Kisco (Next to Chappaqua). He is the son of Peter Yerks and Mary Ackerman. He is buried near other family members at the cemetery.

James Yerks

BIRTH ABT. 1822 • New York, USA
DEATH 20 JUNE 1897 • Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, United States of America
This James Yerks was married to Elizabeth Holtz Norris and lived in Brooklyn his entire life. He is the son of James Yerks and Mary Bennett. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

James Oakley Yerks (The Subject of this post)

BIRTH ABT 1824 • Mount Pleasant, Westchester, New York, USA
DEATH 1863 • Harpers Ferry, Jefferson, West Virginia, USA
The name “James Oakley Yerks” has been mixed up with the first two James Yerks’ numerous times, in numerous trees. It’s part of the Yerks family tree that is a huge mess. This James Oakley Yerks died during Civil War at Harpers Ferry.

Today, I began thinking about which family he could have come from. I carefully looked for Yerks parents with children born around 1824.

There is not much information online or elsewhere available for someone named James O (Oakley) Yerks. Clearly… James Oakley Yerks is a very poorly documented resident of Westchester County, New York.

James Oakley Yerks was married to Mary Ann Hutchell. Together, they had six children… All with names that we have seen many times before, including George, Matilda, Sara Maria, William Clark, James Edwin.

I became interested in James years ago when I first learned he died in the Civil War. I was curious about how he died. During research at the Westchester County Archives, I learned that Mary Ann had remarried a man named Oscar Brown shortly after his death. In some Court papers, I subsequently found, I learned that Oscar and Mary Ann made it official. Oscar had basically accepted responsibility for and adopted James’ children after his death at Harpers Ferry.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me…. I think James Oakley Yerks is the oldest child of our William and Maria Yerks.

TIMELINE

Circa 1823/4 – James Oakley Yerks was born in New York to unknown parents.

**Currently proven children of our William and Maria Yerks were born between 1827 and 1836. It is clearly possible that James could have been the first child of William and Maria.

1860 Sep – James Yerks and his wife appear living with their four children in Pleasantville, NY.

**They appear on the same Census page as our William and Maria as well as the families of two of William and Maria’s children, William Townsend Yerks (Colleen’s line) and John W Yerks (David Yerks line). See the attached Census Record

1862 Aug: James enlists and is assigned to Company I, 6th Regiment of the New York Heavy Artillery.

1863 March – James died at the Harpers Ferry Field Hospital of TB. Not very glorious at all.

From 1861 to 1865, both armies battled for control of the town of Harpers Ferry. The town’s location made it a key target for both armies. 

Disease killed around two-thirds of the soldiers who died during the Civil War. The camps of both armies became breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. As soldiers converged on Harpers Ferry, the supply of safe drinking water disappeared. Diarrhea became so prevalent that the entire 22nd New York regiment was out of action for a week. Military commanders eventually forbade soldiers from drinking from any water source in Harpers Ferry, unless they first mixed the water with whiskey.

1863 March –   James is buried at Pleasantville Rural Cemetery, also known as Pleasantville Methodist Church Cemetery.

** James is buried in the same Cemetery as possible brother John Wesley Yerks and other known family members.

Jun 1866 – Mary Ann Brown petitioned the court to allow her and Oscar Brown to raise the children.

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1866 / 1877 – Mary Ann Brown (formally Yerks) had the first of four children with Oscar Brown.

William, Maria, and their children definitely fell on hard times. William became a resident and eventually died at the Almshouse in Eastview. He is buried underneath the Saw Mill River Parkway at the old Almshouse Cemetery that was never relocated. I think Maria suffered the same fate, having died between 1870 and 1876. Additionally, two of the children, Armenia and Ezra, became residents of the Almshouse. So the family was very poor. Is it possible that James Oakley Yerks was the oldest child of William and Maria? And that he decided to enlist (get paid) in hopes of being able to provide for his family? Maybe work in Pleasantville was scarce.

Early on, I had a terrible time researching the family of William and Maria. There was not much online about them. I guess you might say that they were so poor that nobody cared to document anything about them. At least until they arrived at the Almshouse. I feel like James Oakley Yerks fits into the same picture perfectly. We can’t find much about him or his family because nobody cared enough to record anything about them. He seems to fit perfectly with the family of our William and Maria.

I cannot find James Oakley Yerks in the 1850 Census. Could this be another example of how he might not have ranked high enough in society to be included? But at age 26, it is possible that he had already married Mary Ann Hutchell, although their first child was not born until 1852.

And finally… names. Possible brothers, William Townsend Yerks and James Oakley Yerks both had sons named George. William’s son’s full name was George Oakley Yerks. That cannot be a coincidence. That is not a common middle name. Additionally, they both had a William. And then Williams Townsend Yerks son George started a four-generation tradition of naming boys names James. Where did the name James come from? As far as I can tell, the name James was never used by previous generations of this branch until way back. So did William and Maria start a branch tradition that has lasted for almost 100 years?

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About the Author

Philip (Phil) Hayes is the CEO of Sirius Innovations, LLC. As CEO of Sirius Innovations, LLC, he served as a Technology Solutions Consultant and Web Applications Programmer for fortune 500 companies, large municipalities and hospitals. He is fluent in the SQL, ColdFusion, PHP and Javscript programming languages. He is also a power user of the WordPress Content Management System, commonly used for blogging. Phil's latest product development includes a service called 'Map The Past'. The advanced, yet easy to use functionality offered in this product will enable its members to "Walk in the Footsteps of Their Ancestors". Phil became a Genealogy addict when in 1998, his Uncle, Lloyd W Lewis, sat he and his wife down on the deck of his Uncle's Pennsylvania home and told them the story of his Great, Great Grandfather Henry W. Lewis, the Privateer. The story was so intriguing that Phil found himself yearning for more details. Hence…. Philip Hayes, the Genealogist was born. Leveraging his technology skills, Philip has grown and developed the family tree well beyond what his Uncle could have ever dreamed of. Combining the power of technology and the primary sources from historical documents, Philip developed his own family history web site, based on the Word Press Content Management System (https://www.hayesfamily.us). Upon publishing the site, it has inspired many people to develop interest in the family's history and has connected Philip to several undiscovered relatives and their family stories. Phil is a member of numerous historical and genealogy societies, including the Association of Professional Genealogists

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