Checking family stories

It’s funny how family stories take shape. The story of my great-great-grandfather’s business failure during the Crash of 1873, for instance: I had assumed (based on what information?) that the family at once retrenched, leaving their house on Fifth Avenue in a genteel retreat to my great-great-great-grandmother’s household around the corner, at 13 West Twenty-first Street, and that it was here my great-grandfather grew up. Yet a glance at my notes on the 1880 Census indicates that, on 2 June 1880, John Steward was the head of a large household at 152 Fifth Avenue which included his sons, mother- and sisters-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren, and several servants.[1]

Another document in my grandfather’s box of family papers seems related to what happened next. In 1883, John Steward’s mother-in-law Harriet Banyer (Le Roy) White was 86 years old; she died two years later, in Elberon, New Jersey. Perhaps the West Twenty-first Street house was rented in 1880, but the Whites certainly owned it at that date, since on 10 December 1883 Mrs. White sold it to her surviving daughters for $10; the deed indicates that Mrs. White (and her husband?) had bought the house from Mr. and Mrs. James B. Townsend on 16 November 1850.

In 1850, my great-great-great-grandfather John Steward (1777–1854) was in the process of building a new house, far uptown at the corner of “the” Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first Street: it was in this house that the younger John Steward and members of the White and Stuyvesant families were living in 1880. What could be simpler and cozier than for the members of my great-great-grandmother Catharine Elizabeth (White) Steward’s family to move in around the corner, a few steps down Twenty-first Street from the new Steward house?[2]

Click on image to expand it.

By 1883, in view of her advanced age, Mrs. White felt the need to take steps to provide a permanent home for her daughters Ann White (1820–1914), Mary Martha White (1822–1903), and Cornelia Le Roy White (1825–1911). At some point in these years the Stewards gave up 152 Fifth Avenue and moved into the Whites’ house on West Twenty-first Street: in 1890, my great-great-grandfather John Steward was a broker with an office at 96 Broadway, living at 13 West Twenty-first Street; he appears in the New York Social Register as late as October 1900 living with his son and daughter-in-law[3] in the West Twenty-first Street house.[4]

Between 1900 and 1910, the Whites and the Stuyvesants abandoned the West Twenty-first Street house and moved further uptown. The 1910 Federal Census[5] lists Ann White, 89, with her own income, living at 3 East Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan with her sister Cornelia L., 85, and their great-nephew and -nieces Katherine, 44,[6] and Augustus, 39[7] (identified as servants), and Anna W. Stuyvesant, 38.[8]

So it appears that, while my great-grandfather Campbell Steward (1852–1936) did not live for long in the house at 13 West Twenty-first Street,[9] it was certainly well-known to him as the residence of his grandparents; his uncle and aunts; his brother and sister-in-law; and his brother-in-law, nieces, and nephew. I am unaware of any surviving photos illustrating the house’s interior; on the other hand, the 1883 deed of sale includes my great-great-great-grandmother’s signature – a nice bonus!

Continued here.



[1] 1880 Federal Census, T9_875, p. 281A.

[2] The 1850 Census for the household of John Steward Jr. (in Manhattan’s First Ward) includes as visitors Mrs. Steward’s father, Campbell  P. White, 60, merchant and a native of New York [sic]; her brother John C. White, 33; and her sisters Ann, 28, Mary, 26, and Cornelia, 24. Campbell White appears twice in the 1850 Census: two weeks after his listing with John Steward Jr. he was found as the head of his own household (in the Third Ward) with his wife Harriet, 57, and their children John C., 33, broker; Mary, 24; and Cornelia, 22 (1850 Federal Census, M432_534, p. 51, M432_535, p. 413).

[3] John Steward (Jr.) and Cordelia Schermerhorn (Jones) Steward.

[4] New York Social Register 1901 (1900), p. 405. In 1900, my great-great-aunt Harriet Le Roy (Steward) Stuyvesant’s children were living in the West Twenty-first Street house; the census page is damaged, so it is unclear who is listed as the head of the household, which included Goldsborough Banyer (the former John C. White), Ann White, Mary Martha White, Cornelia Le Roy White, and John Steward (1900 Federal Census, T623_1111, p. 9A).

[5] 1910 Federal Census, T624_1043, p. 144B.

[6] Catharine Elizabeth Steward Stuyvesant (1865-1924).

[7] Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant Jr. (1870-1953).

[8] Anne White Stuyvesant (1871-1938).

[9] He married my great-grandmother in January 1885, fourteen months after Mrs. White sold the house to her daughters.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

8 thoughts on “Checking family stories

  1. My mother was indoctrinated with many stories, which she gladly shared.
    Unfortunately, they were ALL wrong or tinged with enough error to make me shake my head.
    I don’t blame Mom…I DO wonder about the ancestors who spread these attempts to make the families….”better than they should be” (old phrase)

    1. I am running into the same phenomenon with my grandmother! I have begun recording all of her family stories told to her by her grandfather and mother. As I try to piece dates and places with her grandfather’s “adventures” (who, according to the stories, was one colorfully interesting old cad), I am finding many of his stories to be tall tales. I won’t tell her though. She takes such great pleasure in telling them and I love to listen to them.

  2. Which are your Whites? My gg grandfather was John Jay White, son of Eli White and his distant cousin Caroline White. Our Whites came to NYC from Danbury, CT, where they were hatters.
    I also have Stuyvesants through Elizabeth Stuyvesant, wife of Nicholas Fish.

    1. Jennifer, my Whites are from Baltimore (and, previously, Belfast). My great-great-great-great-grandfather Dr. John Campbell White came to Baltimore circa 1800, and three of his sons went on to New York, including my line.

  3. My family has a very enterprising line. An 1853 death showed a well known Bostonian to be insolvent. By 1876 (3 years after the Panic of 1883) his son and son-in-law declared bankruptcy; it appears that their borrowings needed to be refinanced but the collateral declined in value making a refi impossible. By 1939 (after the 1937 depression double-dip) a descendant was likewise bankrupt. There are many family takes about the shame of these bankruptcies; however, each was a direct effect of the economy at the time on the self- employed.

    Suggestion – look into the business and economic cycles of their times! Talk to family members who are MBAs/CPAs, lawyers/paralegals, whatever, if business isn’t your thing. It’s likely that there are very good explanations based on your ancestors’ circumstances. Bear in mind also that business cycles can have slow effects and people work their way gradually through difficulties.

    1. Ann, I’ve had an idea for a book for some time now about the various branches of my paternal grandfather’s family who made and lost fortunes in and around Wall Street. The Kanes were fur trappers with a broad network before they consolidated in Manhattan; the Le Roys invested unwisely in the Greek Revolution; and the Stewards, Jacksons, and Fosters were all caught up in various financial crises during the nineteenth century.

  4. My grandfather delighted in telling the story about how his grandfather and U. S. Grant were drinking buddies during Grant’s time at Fort Humboldt. I did not find anything to confirm or deny that until long after my grandfather died. The first piece came from a bulletin from the Trinity County Historical Society which included a quote about A. Monroe’s activity as a County Supervisor for Trinity County at the time Grant was in Humboldt. Grant was only here for four months, did not like it enough that he resigned his commission to go home to his wife. (A whole other story).
    The next issue for me was to find out why such a story came from him. He was known to embellish, but not to tell outright lies about the family. In a metal box that belonged to my great grandfather. A. J. Monroe was known as an orator, useful for a lawyer. He was also a member a the Society of Humboldt County Pioneers which had an annual meeting each May with a full day of activities. In one, about 1898, one of the older members wanted to tell about his friendship with Grant. Not having the voice to project to the large meeting, A. J. Monroe was chosen to read it for him. Any orator worth his salt would practice before the meeting, maybe at home. In that case, maybe his 8 year old son might have listened and internalized it as our family story. I have no way to prove that it came to be our family story, but it is plausible and I have restored my grandfather’s integrity in my mind.

  5. My mother, Emma (Dart) Lesure told me that her father, William H. Dart, bon in 1850, ran off to join the army as a drummer boy in the Civil War, and that his father, David Dart, caught him at the enlistment station and dragged him, packed the family up and moved to Canada to sit the war out. The truth of this is shown in the 1880 census which shows my great grandfather, his wife, and their two younger sons; the youngest, age 14, was born in Canada.

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