Burdick Newsletters

Winter, 2006

Brought in a Little Black Bag

by Jo Anne Fitzgerald (jafitz@bright.net)

Reprinted with permission, © Copyright Jo Anne Fitzgerald 2005

(What a great story! Thanks, Jo Anne, for sharing this with all of us. - HB)

For the last forty-plus years, the wedding photograph above has been hanging on the same wall as my own wedding photo, taken seventy years later.

My maternal grandparents, Laurina C. Rowley and Elmer Burdick, of Norwich Township, located in north-western Pennsylvania, were married in Olean, New York, on August 3, 1888. Fred Fitzgerald and I were married in Smethport, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1958. The long span of seventy years between wedding dates is the result of my mother being 43-years-old when I was born.

I never really knew either of my Burdick grandparents. Laurina, also know as Rena, died in 1923, my grandfather in 1942 when I was three.

My sister, Yuvona, whom I always say got the good name, was named after my father’s mother. My brother, Lawrence, (called Brud) was named after my father’s father. My Van Mort grandparents were victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918.

I have heard stories about my Burdick grandparents all my life. I recently had a conversation with my sister and she asked if I remembered how she and my brother would drag me to Grandpa Burdick’s house so Grandpa could tickle me with his mustache. She laughed as she remembered how the two of them loved to hear me howl when Grandpa “went at me” with his mustache. She told me, “It was like roping a calf to get you to go and now I know why. Grandpa would scoop you up in his arms and hold you on his lap and nuzzle you with that big mustache and you would squirm and holler and laugh -- you were his little girl and I can still see him holding and hugging you on his lap.”

A recent e-mail from this big sister states, “The day you were born, the aunts took Brud and me over to Aunt France's house, just across the run [Pennsylvania talk for little creek running down the mountain] to that big field where Aunt Frances and Uncle Bill lived. Their house wasn’t big, in fact it was named “the little house,” and had been a store our Grandmother had owned when she was alive. Anyway, we were watching out the window when Dr. Minard arrived. He parked his car, reached in and got out his bag and carried it across the road and up the path. Soon Aunt Cleta came and told us we could now go home and meet our new sister. I didn’t know how we suddenly got a new sister but there you were in bed with Mom. And there was the bag, wide open, sitting on a stand in the bedroom, and it now only had junk in it, no babies. I just put two and two together and, presto, knew just how you arrived -- in that bag. And no amount of knowledge about birthing babies will ever wipe that memory from my mind.”

She went on to remark that she and my brother, four and three years old at the time of the black bag incident, really thought it was a wonderful thing our mother had done by producing me just for their entertainment. I do remember being the pawn of the two of them, remember mostly about the times I got into trouble due to their teasing and mischief making. I never labeled it entertainment.

“Do you remember having to go to the old ice house and digging in the used sawdust for grubs so Grandpa could go fishing?” she wanted to know. Again, I told her no.

Each winter Grandpa would cut great cubes of freshwater ice from one of his spring’s overflow and then pack the ice chunks in sawdust in the icehouse. This would furnish several of the Burdick families with enough ice for lemonade as well as chunks for an icebox that would keep food cool all summer long. My sister said she hated it when she had to grub hunt in the sawdust in the icehouse for Grandpa. She insists that’s why she doesn’t like shrimp, it reminds her too much of those hated grubs of long ago. I do remember the icehouse but not the ice. It was empty when I was growing up. Maybe the grubs were in there, living in peace now that Grandpa wasn’t around to go fishing.

Yuvona continued to talk about the good-tasting trout from Potato Creek that Grandpa would catch. She also remembered the Canadian bacon that Grandpa would bring home from fishing trips to Canada. I had no recollection of eating such wonderful treats.

My grandfather was a great hunter. I have pictures of dead deer and bear hanging in trees, surrounded by Grandpa and several of the uncles and cousins. I have one hunting camp photo, dated 1915, which includes one of my uncles and a cousin. Both young men would be killed in France in WWI. I also have a great photo of Grandpa in a field, holding on to a pheasant and a rabbit, his gun in the other hand and a dog who had evidently been of help in getting the bird.

During the late 1930s, Grandpa, then a widower, lived by himself in a little building on the family farm called “The Old Shanty.” My sister says, “I can still smell the coffee boiling and the wood burning in the stove in Grandpa’s shanty.” She goes on, “One day I ran across the road to his house, ran right in front of a car and Dad spanked me. I will forever hear Grandpa, who had a great and powerful Burdick voice, yelling at him, ‘By the Peel-Heeled ####, don’t you ever spank that child again.’ ” I don’t know if my sister ever got another spanking. I’m sure she probably deserved several.

The blasphemous words of Grandpa in the paragraph above are confusing. It is exactly what my sister says she heard. She was probably five at the time. I had heard the story before and my Mother never corrected it or became indignant that anyone would say such things about her father. Yet my cousin, Carlyn Gallup Seighman, wrote a book called Remembrance…, the story of her Gallup and Burdick connections, and devoted three pages to “Uncle Elmer,” my loud-mouthed grandfather. Her information came from her mother and aunt, twins, while in their late eighties. They claimed that Grandpa never swore but that his favorite saying, tossed off at the top of his lungs, was “By the Red Roaring Life, Fella!”

Whatever Grandpa said, however colorful he spoke, I wish I had some personal memories of him. The closest I came to having a grandparent is my Grandmother Burdick’s sister, Aunt Villie. She bought me books and made me doll clothes and was proud of all my A’s. She owned a mean black cocker spaniel that she “gated” in the living room whenever I went to spend the night. She was constantly praying for me. She told me so. I didn’t know why anyone would be so dedicated to praying for such a perfect child. It is hindsight, garnered after more than half a century, that I now acknowledge that I must have an awful lot of my grandfather in me -- by the Red Roaring Life, Fella, I surely do!


What a difference four years seems to make in remembering. Yuvona -- nicknamed Nonie by me -- has an altogether different set of childhood memories than I do. But then I never saw the doctor bring any babies in his black bag and leave them as playthings for a couple of rambunctious kids.

One of the earliest memories I do have is going with my mother and “the aunts,” her sisters, Aunt Cleta, Aunt Frances and, occasionally, Aunt Myrtle, to the Colegrove Cemetery during the 1940s. I was often the only child on their excursions because my mother was the only one who drove. There are hundreds of stories about my mother’s bad driving and near misses. And every one of them is true. I was there.

At the cemetery, Mom and the aunts would lug and drag boxes filled with geraniums they had started themselves from “slips” they had taken from each other’s or their neighbor’s houseplants. They would have little squares of sod filled with purple and yellow pansies that they had carefully taken from their own flower beds, as well as old metal vases filled with droopy lilac blooms, and get to work planting and trimming the family graves for Decoration Day.

The sisters chatted (perhaps gossiped would be more accurate) as they wandered from Burdick plot to Burdick plot. Meanwhile I was left to chase through the trees and race down the paths between the big impressive monuments and the sprawling old trees. The cemetery was never scary to me, just another place my mother revved up her old car and sped off to, dragging me along.

Much of the history of the Burdick family was related to me on those trips to the cemetery. “Over there is the grandfather who had three wives,” I was told, in tones that somehow suggested that was the worst thing a Burdick had ever done.

Looking back, I remember that the cemetery stories I heard were told me by either my mother or Aunt Frances. I realize now that we often went on walks during those cemetery visits in order to allow Aunt Cleta a time to attend to her own child’s grave, time alone to weep once more.

I don’t remember my cousin Beatrice. She was the sixth of nine children of my Aunt Cleta and Uncle Paul Campbell. She was nine when she died in a sledding accident in 1943. She was sliding down a neighbor’s driveway and did not stop when she got to the main highway and was hit by a car.

Beatrice’s younger brother, Elmer, ran home to tell his mother. “You’re teasing,” Aunt Cleta told Elmer. “She’s hiding behind you.”

Aunt Cleta had silk banners, with a star in the center, hanging in her windows, designating that she had sons off fighting in WWII at the time of the accident. The sons came home safely, but Aunt Cleta mourned the loss of her daughter all her life. I knew Beatrice only through the somber mood that would overtake the family group on those springtime visits to the cemetery. I can remember to this day the little tombstone on her grave next to Grandpa Burdick.

Much of the knowledge that I grew up with about my family came from those cemetery visits. The graves near the road, those close to the old wrought iron fence, were thin slabs of stone, tipping this way and that, with names and dates of early McKean County settlers. Many stones were simply inscribed “Infant.” Some of the early graves had iron Revolutionary War memorial markers beside the headstones.

GG Grandfather William Palmer had a War of 1812 flag holder/marker on his grave, as did GG Grandfather Rowland Burdick, who had been a nineteen-year-old fifer in the War of 1812. Both had been among the first settlers of the Norwich/Colegrove area of the county. They were also the last direct grandfathers I had who fought in any wars of the United States. One long-ago grandfather, Rev. Hazard Burdick, had served in the American army during the Revolution and his father and grandfather had signed an “oath of allegiance” during the same period. My own father was too young for WWI and too old for WWII. My uncle, Ralph Burdick, was killed in France in WWI and is buried there. As a child I would look at the album with pictures of his grave in France, marked with a white cross. And once again, in 2005, the family is waiting for a member to come home from war. My sister’s grandson, Jake Cunningham, is serving with the Marines in Fallujah, Iraq.


The cemetery trips during the early 1940s were like visiting relatives and I learned to use their names in conversation as if I had known them and to accept their stories as if I had been there when the incidents occurred. I remember that Aunt Polly Gallup had a tall, pointed monument on her grave. My mother would tell of spending the night with Aunt Polly, who lived near the one-room schoolhouse, when the wind was blowing and the snow was dumping down, making it impossible for her to walk home.

There were other times, I was told, during her school days, when my mother’s older brothers hauled her to and from school on a sled. She finished eighth grade but would have to wait a year to enter the new Norwich High School being built, where she would complete the three-year course in 1916. She was a basketball star and I have pictures of her, complete with the bloomers that were part of her uniform. She also wore a ruffled cap on her head. I now wonder how she kept it on as she ran and bounced that basketball. She was the captain of the team, so I am sure she was a good player. My brother played high school basketball and now my grandson, Shane, is doing the same. Basketball seems to be the family game.

My mother would remark about friends and neighbors as we wandered the cemetery. I heard the story about the farmer who often lost his cows, somehow, and they would eat a particular plant on their adventure that “curdled their milk.” I heard the story of how my mother started washing dishes at the age of five, firmly ensconced on a wooden box. I heard how she had two white blouses when she went to high school and she would wash one out every night so she could have a freshly starched blouse each day. I heard about the big department store in Norwich where “Pa” bought her size eleven shoes, the kind that came up over her ankles and laced up the front. (I wore similar shoes as a child and I hated them with all the fury and passion I could muster.) I also heard about how my mother, in 1913, drove my Uncle Ralph’s car over a mountain bank when he was trying to teach her to drive.

Other cemetery stories included the one my mother would tell as we wandered past the Rifle plot, about one of the “poor souls” whose gravestone she would point out to me. It seems this Rifle fellow was old and could no longer walk, and so he died sitting up in a chair. By the time the undertaker got there, the dead man had, indeed, become a stiff, one in the upright position. At that time -- pre-1920 -- funerals were held in the home and the person “laid out” in the parlor. To make sure that no varmints would bother the body during the night, someone would sit up with the dead person all night while the family rested.

My mother and Aunt Cleta somehow, either by volunteering or being drafted, ended up as the ones selected to sit up the first evening with the dear departed. They were young women and they laughed and enjoyed their adventure for a good part of the night. When they got sleepy, they settled down to nap in their chairs. A while later they were awakened by the sound of loud creaking and they saw the dead man sit up in the casket. The ropes holding the “sitting” man down had broken and he just plain sat up. My mother and Aunt Cleta did not finish out the night but sped down the road to the safety of their own home. They told me, “We just grabbed our coats and got out of there. He was already sitting up, we weren’t going to wait for him to get up out of that casket!” I’ll bet they ran the half-mile home in record time.

I held tight to my mother’s hand as we walked past the graves of the family who had owned the goose that had become her nemesis when she was on her way to school. I knew the story she was about to tell me and I was rather leery of getting too close to the family plot -- I didn’t know if a real goose would suddenly appear and start pecking at my own legs. “There’s old John Oviatt’s grave,” my mother would start. “They just wouldn’t do a darn thing about that goose.” My mother was still mad almost forty years later. It seems there was a huge goose that did not like my mother. I don’t know if the goose was just ill tempered or if, on a whimsy, it chose to dislike only my mother. Anyway, it chased her when she walked to school, making it necessary for her to run to the goose-family’s outhouse for safety until someone would rescue her.

There were other stories told in that cemetery. I heard about scandalous wives who “ran away” with someone else’s husband. I heard about suicides because someone “lost his money” in the crash. I accepted that, having no idea what the crash was but felt sorry for anyone who lost his money. I knew how hard it was to come by extra pennies. And I heard about men who had been killed in poker games as well as those who had gone bravely off to WWI, only to have their bodies sent home in “a wooden box.”

As an adult, I wrote several newspaper articles about cemeteries in Morrow County, Ohio. I was fascinated with the large cemeteries and went there looking for stories and I always found several. I also traipsed through cornfields to photograph small family plots and record the names and dates of children, dying one right after the other, of dread diseases. I found unfamiliar sayings, as well as unknown symbols, on tombstones that took time to research to uncover their meanings. I regret that I had no one to tell me the stories of the people buried in the old Ohio cemeteries. When my newspaper stories would generate phone calls and letters from far away relatives of those mentioned in my articles, I always responded that my interest in cemeteries was due to my degree in American History. I never admitted it was because, as a child, I had been introduced to my Burdick ancestors -- as well as wonderful stories -- when I wandered the old Colegrove Cemetery.

© Copyright Jo Anne Fitzgerald 2005

Burdick News... Up-To-The-Minute!

There is something big brewing... I have been contacted by many of you about family reunions, and now there is a massive one to let you know about. In fact, it will be the ULTIMATE family reunion! It's the brainchild of Donna Schumacher (donna@ultimatefamilyreunion.org) and is being planned for 2009 to commemorate the 360th anniversary of the founding of Stonington, CT. Donna wants members of all the founding Colonial families to attend. As you probably know, Stonington is on the other side of the river from Westerly, RI, the ancestral home of the Burdick family. There will be lots of details forthcoming, but I wanted all of you to know as soon as possible. Donna has started a web site, please visit it at http://www.ultimatefamilyreunion.org.

You may remember that in the last Newsletter, Mike Howard (mjhow@cox.net) was looking for help identifying his ancestor, Ebenezer Burdick, as an American Patriot for membership in the Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution (DAR/SAR). Jo Anne Fitzgerald (jafitz@bright.net) and Pat Maxon Larson (relpsl@iowatelecom.net) are both DAR members and provided some information. Unfortunately, Ebenezer is not one of the 44 documented Burdick Patriots. Jo Anne notes, though, that this does not mean Ebenezer did not serve, just that his line has not yet been submitted for scrutiny. Both Jo Anne and Pat have offered to supply information about the DAR process and their experiences. Thanks! (By the way, Jo Anne is also the person who wrote this Newsletter's principle article.) In the meantime, you can gather a lot of information by visiting the DAR and SAR web sites, at http://www.dar.org and http://www.sar.org, respectively.

Lynn Blau (lynnraye22@hotmail.com) has come across some interesting information about Burdette family member in Amsterdam, Netherlands in the 1700's. If you are looking for information on these lines, contact her.

Mary Elliott (SHNYRLT@aol.com) knew a Bill Burdick at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1952. His family lived in the Georgetown, Washington, DC area. If you know (or are) this Bill Burdick, Mary would love to make contact to catch up on the last 50 years! (P.S., Mary says Bill could really dance!)

Nancy Burdick (nanjburd@yahoo.com) wants to announce the birth of a new Burdick family member! Zoey Jane Burdick was born May 29, 2005 to her son Matthew Thomas Burdick and his fiance Hannah Leigh Whittier.

Connie Wright (DBBFAN111@aol.com), a frequent contributor to this Newsletter, has been going through some difficult medical problems. She's doing better after surgery, but as we know, it'sa long process. If you have a chance, drop her an email, I know she will appreciate it. Thanks!

Jim Harmon (43kubel@comcast.net) has some information on a family group out of New York, Burdicks and others, ca. 1880. The info includes the following families: Burdick, Crabb, Casterline, Cartwright,, Phillips, Parmer, Oviatt, Church, Young, Linsey and Black. If any of these family names rings a bell, please contact Jim.

Jim also has a signature quilt dating from the 1860-1880's containing 48 signatures (one on each quilt block) from the family of Almon Burdick (1810-1881) and wife Celinda (Oviatt) Burdick of Amity, NY. It measures about 66" by 88" and is in good shape. Signatures are in india ink in the white center portion of each block, and appear in different handwriting. They include all the children and spouses of Almon and Celinda as well as other family members, mainly from the Casterline, Oviatt, Crabb, Dye and Cartwright families. Jim would like to get this quilt back in Burdick family hands, so if you are interested please contact him.

Many of you have helped family members make connections to the Burdicks in the past, and I'm hoping you can help again. Caren Willard (raccoon@att.net) is trying to learn what happened to her family. Caren is the daughter of Harriet Pearl Charles and John Berant Engberg. Harriet's mother (Caren's grandmother) was Pearle Helen Burdick, the daughter of James W. Burdick and Jospehine (Josie) Wells (or maybe Jennings). James was the youngest son of Ruel Verius Burdick and Mary Ann Ousterout. James and his family lived in Brookfield, Madison County, New York. James was born in 1870 or 1871. Josephine in 1880. They had four children: Leon C. born 30 July 1899, Blanche born about 1902, Pearle Helen (caren's grandmother) born 3 March 1903 and Frances Ann born 24 Nov 1906. Something happened to the family around 1909-1910. All the children were split up. Pearle Helen is in the 1910 census living with a family in Brookfield named Wing and was later adopted by Harriet Ann Babcock and her husband Walter. Caren has been searching for an answer for 6 years and her mother, who is 78 years old, would like some mysteries solved in her lifetime. If you know ANYTHING, please contact Caren. Thanks.

Charles Murray (motocrosskxrider@yahoo.com) wanted to report that his Aunt Elnora "Nora" Burdick has passed away on Pearl Harbor Day following a short battle with Alzheimer's at age 88. She had lived most recently in Simi Valley, CA before moving to a rest home in Winnetka, CA earlier this year. Nora was born in Chester, PA to Dr. Lawrence Wylie Burdick and Mrs. Lillian Ross Burdick on Sept 25, 1917. The family relocated to Parkside, PA in the 1930s. She was preceded in death by her younger sister Harriet and younger brother Charlie. She attended school in suburban Philadelphia, and graduated from Sleeper's Business School to become a legal secretary. She worked as such in Philadelphia for the law firms Montgomery & Mc Cracken, also Hannum, Hunter, Hannum & Hodge until relocating to Los Angeles in early 1945. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Nora took a position as a secretary for the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. She retired as the longest time employee of that firm in 1987. At a 35th anniversary luncheon as employee, her boss stated "Nora did not always type exactly what I told her to... She typed what I MEANT to say". During her early years at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, her duties included the forgotten task of hanging the blackout curtains in the offices for evening air raid drills during World War II. It was Nora's unstoppable kindness, patience and generosity that made her the most wonderful lady she was. Never a negative word for anyone. Now we can be assured that never will a typographical error take place in Heaven, knowing that Nora is up there. Nora is survived by nephew Charles Murray of Los Angeles, nieces Beth Cobb of Illinois, April White of Arkansas, and many lifelong friends.

Thomas Ball (swculturalhistball@yahoo.com) is working on a historical research project that encompasses the Cochiti Mining District, now in Sandoval county, NM. He encountered the name T. D. Burdick, apparently a dentist, who purchased a lot in the town of Bland in 1896 and built a small cabin there. He apparently held some mining interests as well as working mines. By 1898 he rented his place to a Mr. Mead and then vanishes from the records. Does anyone know this T. D. Burdick? Thaomas would like to learn more about his dentistry practice and why he left Bland.

And finally, my own niece, Emily Burdick, has brought a new little Burdick into the world. Rozalyn Paige Burdick arrived December 15, 2005.

Copyright Howard E. Burdick 2019. All Rights Reserved.