Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Genealogy For Beginners

A six-week Beginning Genealogy Course will start on Thursday, January 19, 2012 from 9:30 to noon in meeting room 1 at the Central Brevard Library located at 308 Forrest Ave. in Cocoa. The class will meet each Thursday through February 23, 2012.

The $30.00 fee includes all materials and a one-year membership in the Brevard Genealogical Society. Class size is limited and pre-registartion is required.

Materials include a 3-ring binder with course syllabus which contains summaries of all classes, a supply of genealogy forms, archival sheet protectors and notebook paper. Instructors will be Vera Zimmerman and Betty Eichhorn with other guest lecturers.

For more information contact Vera Zimmerman at (321)453-4932, verazimmerman@flbgs.com or visit the Brevard Genealogical Society website to register.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oranges and Douglas Dummitt

Well, it is that time of year again, you thought I was going to say something about the holidays didn't you, but no it is orange season! Driving around the county the other day I noticed that all the grove owners have their stores open and seemed to be doing a brisk business selling our famous Indian River Citrus. Citrus is one of those industries, like tourism, that define our state and provided a livelihood for many of our early settlers. Although the groves aren't as numerous as they used to be, due to freezes and development pressures, Brevard county was home to one of the earliest and most prosperous groves founded by Douglas Dummitt or Dummett. Dummitt, whose family had moved to East Florida from Barbados, supposedly sold his first crop in 1828 and he created a sweet and sour hybrid by 1835. Dummitt's service in the Second Seminole War, Civil War and his controversial living arrangements with a former slave have been the subject of numerous articles and books over the years.

While I have read most of these it was another book that I picked up recently that threw me for a loop so to speak. The book, Frolicking Bears, Wet Vultures, and Other Oddities by Jerald Milanich is composed of articles written by the journalist Amos Jay Cummings describing his travels in nineteenth century Florida. On a trip in March of 1873, the year Dummitt died, he visited with him and his observations were not exactly what I expected. Regarding the Dummitt house Cummings states that, "The mansion was built of unplanned boards. They had neither been painted or whitewashed and had become black from the action of the weather. The house contained but one room. The Captain's bed, well protected by mosquito bars, stood in the southwest corner. Two or three wooden chairs were scattered about the room, and a hen was laying her egg on a sort of work bench in the corner nearest the door. The walls were neither lathed nor plastered, and streaks of daylight could be seen beneath the side boards. There were no windows in the house. Light was admitted through a square hole, which was covered with rough wooden shutters." This proves that the house often referred to as "Dummitt's Castle" and pictured below was most definitely a later nineteenth century addition to the property.

Although Cummings raves about the condition and productivity of Dummitt's grove, "none were so large or so fine," he also says that its money making potential is greatly hindered by the fact that anybody who wants the oranges must come to Dummitt and arrange the picking and shipping by themselves. Cummings states that Dummitt was fond of saying that he "wouldn't pick a damned orange for you if you would give me two million dollars a minute," and that "Dummitt works for no man-not even himself," was a common saying on the Indian River. The fact that nobody lived within twenty miles of Capt. Dummitt meant that most of his fruit went to waste and Cummings reported that Dummitt "cares little for money and is contented so long as he makes a living."

Just thought this was some very interesting insight into our area's earliest settler and if you care to be further enlightened on the real living conditions in the "good ole days" just check out Cummings descriptions of the mosquitoes on the Dummitt place!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kentucky Genealogy & History on OverDrive

Kentucky Bluegrass
 I have heard lots of great comments about our Brevard County Libraries eLibrary Catalog and for those of you interested in genealogy and history, particularly in the "Bluegrass State", it just got even better!

OverDrive has a program called Community Reserve, in which participating libraries upload their own content to the OverDrive collection. This content can then be used by other libraries at no cost. Through Community Reserve, we have added 176 new titles, all Kentucky genealogy (such as city directories, marriage and cemetery records) to our collection. Click HERE for a screen shot which takes you to the Advanced Search page for OverDrive. In the Subject line click on the arrow for the pull down menu and the new titles can be found under the subject headings of "Kentucky Genealogy" and "Kentucky History".

Hopefully more communities will add content as OverDrive evolves, so check back and see.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fun With Old Photographs

As genealogists we take great delight in finding new names to add to the family tree, but perhaps nothing is more exciting than being able to add a face to go with that name. The Central Brevard Library has a great collection of books that can assist you in finding out more about any old photographs you might have in your family, from tips on dating them by studying the clothing of the subjects, to the type of photo itself. The first type of photograph that was used widely in America was the Daguerrotype which was patented in 1839. After the daguerreotype came the ambrotype, tintype and then the paper prints we are more familiar with today. In addition to our great book collection the Brevard Genealogical Society will be offering a workshop on how to identify and date old photographs on Monday Sept. 12 at 9:30 at the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa. So come and bring some of your photos to share with the group.

College Park House Today

I have always been fascinated by old photographs and have collected many of family members both recent and pretty ancient. It is amazing what old photos can tell you about the subjects and perhaps yourself as well. Those of you who know me know that I have a thing for the Spanish style architecture of the 1920's and that I have restored several houses from that period. When I bought my first house from that period I showed a picture of it to my now 100 year old grandmother, who promptly said, "it reminds me of our house in Lake Worth Florida." Well, I almost fell off my chair as I had never heard that my family had been in Florida before my parents, and I certainly didn't know anything about them having a house there. I did know that my great grandfather, Abel Post, was a noted builder and contractor in Michigan and turns out that during the height of the Florida land boom in 1925 he followed the masses of people that moved to Florida to make their fortune in real estate. My grandmother attended school in Lake Worth and told me about some of her adventures including how she skipped school one day and ended up flying in a bi-plane over the coast, which got her lots of trouble with her mother later! My grandmother did not remember the address of the house her father built there, but did remember the general location and the style of the house. I high tailed it to the Palm Beach County courthouse where I located the deed with my great grandparents names on it and the clerk helped me determine its current location in the College Park Subdivision. A drive by found a beautifully maintained Spanish style bungalow that was exactly "my style."

A year or so ago when my grandmother moved to an assisted living facility the family cleaned out her house and found the snapshot above, which said "Florida 1926" on the back of it and also gave the identities of the people pictured. My mother handed it to me and said, "Isn't this the house in Lake Worth?" I recognized it immediately and was thrilled to finally have a photo of my great grandfather and his children, including my grandmother in the middle, standing in front of their newly constructed house. You can see that the front yard is still sand and the now lush landscaping is brand new. Anyway to me finding this picture and the stories behind it helps explain why I am so drawn to that period of history and to that type of architecture, as I know my great grandfather must have been as well. Just one photograph opened up a whole part of my family history that I had never known about, and I am sure some of the photos in your collection might be clues to finding out some of your family's past as well. I encourage you to get started by using the library's resources and by attending the upcoming workshop!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Self Publishing Workshop

On Monday, August 8 at 9:30 am at the Central Brevard Library Vera Zimmerman of the Brevard Genealogical Society will present a workshop on Self-Publishing. Vera will help guide attendees through the vast sea of self-publishing to turn your facts, documentation, and photographs into an attractive and informative book.

This workshop is free and open to the public.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Just A Question of Girls

The other day when I was searching the old archives of the New York Times for something, I ran across a totally unexpected article that I thought I might share with my readers, especially those interested in local history. Most locals will probably recognize the photo below of the house on Rockledge Dr., it being one of the largest and showiest homes on the River Road.

For most of its early history this was referred to as the Metzner home, it being the winter home of Martin A. Metzner and family. The Metzners were permanent residents of New York and they spent their summers in a grand mansion on the shores of Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island. The Metzners were probably the wealthiest family that wintered in Rockledge and as such were well known in the area. The Metzners had a son and three daughters and all were very active in sports and outdoor activities. 

The September 2, 1908 issue of the New York Times carried an article entitled, "Just A Question of Girls" which states that Sheriff Wells of Suffolk County, Long Island had arrested one of Martin Metzner's daughters for speeding some time ago, and that she had paid a fine of $10 and had been released, having stated her name on the paperwork as simply, "Miss Metzner." On Sept. 1, the Sheriff stopped her for "tearing along the Suffolk County roads" again and charged her with a second offense, which was a much more serious charge. However, the writer took delight in reporting that, "Mr. Metzner has three charming daughters, who look so much alike that even their friends have difficulty in distinguishing one from the other." When brought before the court the judge asked the accused if it was her second offense at which point her two sisters got up and stood beside her and each asked the Sheriff in turn, "Are you sure it wasn't I?" The Sheriff was at a loss to identify the culprit and responded in court, "Blest if I know." As a result the paper reports that Miss Metzner pleaded guilty to the speeding charge, but not to the second offense, and the Justice fined her $10, which she paid, and "the three Miss Metzners departed in triumph."

This happy family was to suffer a great tragedy in 1917 when the girl's brother and the Metzner's only son Nicholas W. was killed in a car accident on his way to Miami where he was going to receive his degree in aviation prior to his enlistment in the Armed Forces during World War I. The family was very involved in the war effort and Mr. Metzner even donated his private yacht to the Navy to be used in combat.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Genealogy "Brick Walls" Seminar

On June 13th at 9:30 am, the Brevard Genealogical Society will present their popular "Brick Walls Workshop." Participants will help each other break through their genealogical brick walls by sharing information, ideas and resources. Dorrie Dykstra will serve as moderator. The meeting will be held at the Central Brevard Library, 308 Forrest Avenue in Cocoa.

Please submit your brick walls in advance to board@flbgs.org Include what you want to learn and enough information to adequately identify the people: who, when, where and brothers, sisters and spouse, if known. Please tell us what sources you have already researched and your results.

Members of the Board will review your brick wall and suggest more avenues for research.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Titusville's Pritchard House

Last weekend featured the grand opening of the historic Pritchard House and gardens in downtown Titusville. This outstanding example of Queen Anne architecture was built in 1891 by Capt. James Pritchard and his wife Mary "Mamie" Haley (Boye) Pritchard and was continually lived in by Pritchard descendants until it was purchased for historic preservation in 2005 by Brevard County. The home which is a landmark in downtown Titusville remained virtually unchanged since its construction and was a prime candidate for restoration. Brevard County partnered with the North Brevard Heritage Foundation http://www.nbbd.com/npr/preservation/PritchardHouse/index.html and the resulting product will receive the highest award possible when the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation meets in Orlando on May 20th.

While it is commonly know that Capt. James Pritchard was a Confederate veteran and an early settler fewer people know that the reason he left Missouri to settle in the wilds of Florida in 1876 was that his wife Mary Haley Boye was an heir to a Spanish Land Grant of 43,000 acres known as the Delespine Grant. Mary's mother was Frances Jane ( Delespine) Boye, pictured below in the 1840's, was born in St. Augustine, Florida around 1811 to Joseph Delespine and his wife Francisca de Paula Petronita Fontanet.

Joseph Delespine was a prominent merchant in St. Augustine and received the grant in what is now Brevard County in 1817 for services rendered to the Spanish government during the American invasion of Spanish Florida in 1812. Joseph was a wily businessman and acquired other huge tracts of land by purchase from other Spanish grantees and owned somewhere around 200,000 acres in the state of Florida at the time of his death in 1834. When Florida became a state the grants had to be confirmed by the new American government and the Delespine heirs took their claim to the Supreme Court and won. Joseph's daughter Frances Jane married the German merchant Christian Boye and they moved from St. Augustine to Key West in the 1840's. After losing most of the family fortune and her husband during the Civil War period Frances Jane (Delespine) Boye and her two children Frank and Mary moved to Galveston, Texas where Mary met and married Capt. James Pritchard, who was passing through that city on an expedition to Brazil. Frances Jane moved in with the Pritchards and after some time spent in Missouri they decided to return to Florida and settle the Grant that Frances Jane had inherited from her father.  The Pritchards settled on the Grant in 1876 and lived until the freeze of 1886 destroyed much of their citrus crops and caused them to decide to move to Titusville. After living in a cottage for a while the Pritchards built the current house in 1891 and Frances Jane (Delespine) Boye moved into it with her daughter and husband.

Frances Jane lived until 1901 and he obituary in the Florida Star called her "one of the pioneers of Florida." It also referred to her "possessing of a deeply sympathetic nature and a fine motherly character which caused her to be deeply loved and highly respected by all." This picture of her taken in the 1890's certainly reflects that and still shows the dignity of the portrait painted of her in her prime above.

When you consider that the Delespine Grant was awarded in 1817 the ancestry of Capt. Pritchard's mother in law likely gives them the oldest connection to Brevard County of any of the pioneer families. That their ancestral home has been restored and open to the public is a gift to us all!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

1934 Murder of Cocoa's Ethel Allen

Since violent crime is still somewhat unsual in Brevard County we can only imagine just how shocking a brutal murder would have been to the community in 1934. Unfortunately this is precisely what happened when the badly mutilated and burned body of nineteen year old Cocoa resident Ethel Allen was found on the shore of the Indian River between Rockledge and Eau Gallie on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 1934. The story of Ethel Allen contiunes to fascinate locals and has been keept alive in part due to the claim that her ghost haunts Ashley's Restaurant in Rockledge.

The facts are that on the 21st a man driving north along the river noticed buzzards circling overhead and landing on the ground, and when he went to investigate the source he discovered a badly decomposed and mutilated body. The identity was established later that day by Mrs. Gerald Finney of Cocoa, with whom the girl had boarded. Identification was made by a tattoo on her right thigh and by a ring that the girl wore. When found the body of Miss Allen bore marks of extreme violence. Her throat had been cut, wounds were found in the forehead and base of the skull, the right side of the face had been crushed and the upper teeth and part of the jaw bone were missing. One leg was almost gone and the murderer had attempted to dispose of the body by burning and throwing it into the river.

The investigation the ensued determined that Ethel had last been seen on Sunday when she stopped by a local packing house to say goodbye to a friend, saying that she was going to Wacuchula, FL to visit her mother and that her friend Bill was going to take her. Before that she had been at the City Point Inn with a man named William "Billy" Wilson who she had introduced to several of her friends. On the day that Ethel's body was found Mr. Wilson backed his car up to his rented house on Barton Ave. in Rockledge, loaded his things into it and left the area. Although locals remembered that his car had Pennsylvania tags, Brevard Sheriff Roy Roberts was notified that 300 people with the same name has taken licenses for automobiles in Pennsylvania and the number on the tag was not noticed by any person in the vicinity. Radio broadcasts were made and a reward was offered for his apprehension but he was never seen again. Ethel was laid to rest in the Georgiana Cemetery in Merritt Island and since Mr. Wilson was the only suspect the case went cold and was never solved. To view Ethel's final resting place check out her Find A Grave entry by Mrs. Jean Dutrizac-Reep http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=31023274

Ethel's murder continues to fascinate local residents and theories abound as to what people think "really" happened and who did it. Since there was no arrest or trial the only first hand accounts that exist were published in the Cocoa Tribune and the Melbourne Times newspapers. If you want to know more about this fascinating story these papers and are available for viewing at the Central Brevard Library and Reference Center in Cocoa.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indian River Country

Yes, I did mean Country not County! This is actually the title of three volumes compiled by library volunteers Jim and Bonnie Garmon. Jim and Bonnie joined us at the library several years ago and began indexing obituaries published in our microfilm of the Cocoa Tribune newspaper. While reading through the papers in search of the dearly departed they began to notice fascinating news articles that gave first hand accounts of historical events and provided previously unknown information of some of our area's early pioneers. As a result they decided to transcribe these stories, index them and publish them so that others could enjoy them as well.  The first volume covers 1880-1889, the second 1890-1892 and the third 1893-1894. The books are available for sale at http://stores.lulu.com/jimandbonnie and the Garmon's are generously donating their profits from the series to the library. THANKS GUYS!

If you have an interest in the history of the area during that time period or have ancestors that were here then, these books are a gold mine. Where else will you find out that in 1844 there lived, just south of the lighthouse at Cape Canaveral, a Dr. Holbrook, a learned physician of great skill and prominence from Charleston, S.C. who lived in a one room palmetto cabin where he dwelt like a recluse, amid hundred of volumes of valuable books. He was the only physician on the Indian River and he never failed to respond to any call for his professional services. His only solace in life seemed to be his books and his flute, an eight-keyed instrument "in the use of which he was an artist."

Or how about Mr. Manahan, an Irishman and tailor by trade, but a "poet by nature and pen" who every day wrote poetry to his much older Jewish wife and who had a favorite and well trained pet, a huge racoon, which he called Aristophanes. The coon accompanied him at all times but hated Mr. Manahan's apprentice lad, James Kelly, and took every opportunity to bite and scratch his face and legs.  As a result of this treatment "a fearful feud" existed between them and although the boy made many attempts to destroy the coon, he always escaped unharmed.

These stories and more were taken from the microfilm collection of the Central Brevard Library where many other interesting stories are waiting to be discovered!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Historic City Point Church Open House

The Brevard Heritage Council, the county's oldest historic preservation group, http://www.brevardheritagecouncil.org/ would like to invite local history lovers to an open house at the Council's new home, the City Point Church, on February 18th starting at 4pm. It will be a great chance to view this historic structure and meet the board members of the Council. The BHC is famous for its historic home tours, annual property awards, monetary grants to deserving groups and much more. They can always use volunteers and new members to support their work, so if you are interested stop by and say hi and partake in some light refreshments!

The City Point church is owned by the county and has been leased to the Brevard Heritage Council to be used as a meeting space and a home for their records. The former church is on the National Register and the following interesting history can be found on the marker in front of the building.

Known as City Point, this area was settled shortly after the Civil War by Confederate veterans, citrus grove workers, northern winter residents, and consumptives seeking a healthy climate. By early 1885, a board of trustees was formed consisting of William H. Sharpe, George W. Holmes, A.L. Hatch, John M. Sanders, and George E. Chester, to construct this building to be used for a public hall, school, and non-denominational church for both white and black residents. On land donated by J.C. Norwood, this building was designed by A.L. Hatch and built by John M. Sanders who completed the work on November 1, 1885. This structure served as the beginning congregation for the following churches: the United Methodist Church of Cocoa, Church of Christ, Church of God, Primitive Baptist Church, Calvin Baptist Church, Indian River Baptist Church, Baptist Enterprise Church, and the First Apostolic Temple. The building was used as a school until 1924. Picnics, dances, political rallies, a precinct voting station and observation tower during World War II, were some of the many uses the community found for the building.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beginning Genealogy Class

A six week Beginning Genealogy Course will start on Thursday, Jan 20, 2011 and will meet each Thursday from 9:30 to noon in Meeting Room 1 of the Central Brevard Library, 308 Forrest Ave., Cocoa, Florida through February 24.

There will be a $30 materials charge which will include a 3-ring binder with course syllabus which contains summaries of all classes, a supply of genealogy forms, archival sheet protectors and notebook paper.

Instructiors will be Vera Zimmerman and Betty Eichhorn with guest teachers on several topics.

For more information contact Vera Zimmerman (321)453-4932, verabzim@bellsouth.net or visit the BGS website at http://www.flbgs.org/ed/classes.html

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


This blog is being introduced as a way of sharing what is going on in the genealogy department at the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa, Florida and the wider genealogical community in our area. Information will be posted on upcoming classes, lectures, speakers and special events. Since genealogy and history go hand in hand I will also be posting items related to the rich history of our area. This may include stories about interesting individuals, events and places. At least initially, several of the topics covered will be the result of frequent questions by library patrons on the same subject, such as the 1934 murder of Cocoa's Ethel Allen, and while we cannot post all our historical documents on a particular topic it will give the reader an idea of what is available at the library. Individuals may also contact me about posting information on events or topics they feel would be of interest to the readers of this blog.