Following ‘chain of custody’ may lead to family history treasures

By Roxanne Moore Saucier, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 24, 2011, at 12:10 p.m.

The carbon includes the signature of Arthur’s wife, Helen F. Dyer, and of the staff member who handled it, Philip S. Annis.

Written on the carbon copy in ink is “Pd 12/10/60 by Pis. Sav. Bk Ck.” This notation regarding Piscataquis Savings Bank is in the handwriting of someone other than Helen Dyer. Who is it likely to be, then?

Census records for Dover-Foxcroft list the Dyers as having three sons. In the 1930 Census, they were enumerated as Caleb F., 21; Arthur C. Jr., 18; and James C., 9.

And in fact, the chain of custody for their father’s funeral bill is easy to trace. I have had it in my possession since July 1990, when my great aunt, Marion (Roberts) Dyer, died. Her husband, Caleb Ford Dyer, had died in 1988.

The handwriting on the carbon copy is clearly my uncle’s, not my aunt’s. He was the oldest of the three Dyer children, and was the one who lived closest to his parents. He was a high school principal at Hampden Academy, and also had been bookkeeper there in his first years as principal. He was well-suited to be executor for the estate.

Ford and Marion Dyer were the types to hang onto records. In 1990, I found not only this 30-year-old funeral bill, but several of their contracts for teaching in Hampden in the 1960s.

The funeral bill and other records came to me because I was the personal representative for my great aunt, whose husband had predeceased her. If she had died first, the final duties for their household, I feel certain, would have been handled by one of the younger Dyers.

So if there are documents or a family Bible or other heirloom that might still be in existence, see whether you can figure out the likely “chain of custody.”

My task is to make sure that this1960 funeral bill and copies of it are made available to the various grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are descended from Arthur C. Dyer.

Carol B. Smith Fisher of Camden and Bangor, author of “The Rev. Seth Noble: A Revolutionary War Soldier’s Promise of America and The Founding of Bangor, Maine and Columbus, Ohio,” wrote to share her own story of the value of persistence in family research.

“My husband Ken had always grown up with the knowledge that his great-grandfather rode off on a horse from the Florian family farm in Wilmington, Ill., and was never heard from again,” Fisher wrote. “It was family lore that he was from Sussex, England, because his grandfather received notice from a solicitor that he had inherited ownership in an organ/piano factory. My grandfather chose not to respond to this letter and the letter has since been lost. Not much to go on, but let this be known to your readers that one clue leads to the next, and anything is possible if you try long and hard enough.

“Ten years ago, I wrote a letter to the Sussex History Centre and they gave me an address of a woman in Canada who was researching all the Fishers who went to America. I wrote to her and she mailed the name of a man, Frederick William Fisher, who married in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1897 and they had 10 children. I was unable to follow through then, but I put the letter in our Fisher file until last spring. Armed with a computer, I decided to follow through on this lead, since the dates and name made sense. I contacted the Ottumwa Genealogical Society and they sent me his photo and his obituary. Ken had the shock of his life — he was looking into his father’s eyes!

“We found the obituary of the last remaining child, who was 101 and had just died. She was in the Guinness Book of [World] Records for being the longest continuous church organist. This struck ‘a note’ with us because everyone in Ken’s family is musical except Ken. The obituary listed her sole surviving son as residing in Luna, N.M., and we made an immediate phone call.

“They knew nothing of the ancestor’s former life or that he had been married and had a son named Frederick William Fisher. This was quite a shock for both the Iowa family and Ken’s, to say the least.

“We have shared family photos and a family history from Ken’s great-grandfather that he wrote the year before he died. He gave the names of his mother and father and both his brothers. His mother was Theoclea (Theobald) Fisher and his father was Frederick Victor Fisher, the same name given to Ken’s father.

“Frederick William Fisher gave his parents names on his marriage license to Mary Florian in Wilmington, Ill., so this match made it irrefutable! Since last spring, I have been working hard to find descendants of his brothers. I started first to do his ancestry. We were able to trace his ancestry back to the 1700s in Egham, England, famous for the field Runnymede, where King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

“This summer brought us great joy for we were able to finally join this family after 131 years. Ken’s cousin in England is Roger Fisher, the renowned organist who just performed at Westminster Abbey. Roger’s grandfather is the brother of Frederick William Fisher, and the family in England had no idea of this connection.

“Frederick William stowed away on a ship to America in 1880 as a 16-year-old-boy. He wrote to his father of his first marriage to Ken’s great-grandmother and was never heard from again. We since have been sent beautiful CDs of Roger’s music. Ken was given copies of drawings of Theoclea (Theobald) Fisher, born in 1839; and her mother, Susan (Layzell) Theobald, born in 1806. These are treasures Ken never thought he would have. The moral of this story is there may be light at the end of your genealogical tunnel — you won’t know unless you try!”

For more information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at http://bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties/. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail familyti@bangordailynews.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/12/24/living/family-ties/following-chain-of-custody-may-lead-to-family-history-treasures/ printed on October 2, 2014