Alonzo's Obit

Scholefield Family Tree

I located one obit for Alonzo. There are likely more out there because this was one picked up by a nearby paper in a different county. The moral of this story is that you might find a news item about your family in an unexpected paper. Nearby papers would reprint news from the surrounding areas — especially if they wanted to cover a large area and thereby increase their subscriber base. Papers from a place where a person was a previous resident would carry an obit — like Susan Miller’s Amsterdam obit. And if it was sensational, sometimes the story would make national news. Really, this is not too different from nowadays! Of course, the more a story was reprinted, the more likely there is to be an error.

blockquoteAMSTERDAM, Sept 21.–[Special,]–
Captain Alonzo H, DeGraff, 48 years of age, died here to-day after a long illness of Bright’s disease. Captain DeGraff had been superintendent of the water works ever since its construction, about twelve years ago. He went to the front at the breaking out of the civil war as a drummer boy, being scarcely 14 years of age. He soon afterward shouldered the musket and carried it thro’out the struggle, winning honors several times. He bas been a prominent G. A. R. man. He was a staunch republican, but never took an active part in politics. A widow, three sons and two daughters survive.1

And just as fun to find are articles printed years after an event. Papers regularly published bits about what had been in the paper 25, 50, or even 100 years before. Many times, they would even pull information from the society pages, which are the best place to learn about the day to day goings on of those who were fashionable. Here are some excerpts from an article entitled “How Many Remember? Old Resident Inquires.”

blockquoteHow many Amsterdaminans can remember:

When 40 couples attended a ball given at Pythian Temple in honor of college boys who, having passed a pleasant Summer vacation at their homes, were about to return to their studies? . . .

When the Merchants and the Bankers played baseball for the benefit of the City Hospital on the Y. M. C. A. grounds in the West End? The Merchants won by a score of 14 to 12. . . .

When Miss Mary Jane Doak, daughter of Supervisor James Doak, was struck by lightning while attending to her household duties? She was confined to her bed for two days but recovered rapidly.

When Captain Alonzo H. DeGraff, superintendent of the city waterworks system and one of Amsterdam’s best known and most popular citizens, died at his home on West Spring Street? Captain DeGraff was born December 12, 1845, in the old DeGraff homestead, about a half mile east of the city boundary line, on the Cranesville road. The war of the Rebellion broke out while Alonzo waa attending school. In 1862, leaving the old Amsterdam Academy on East Main Street, he enlisted in the Twenty-Fifth Albany Regiment. After three months’ service as a private at Suffolk. Va., he re-enlisted at Utica in the Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery, with which he remailed until September, 1865. He was promoted in succession to sergeant, second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and then captain. He participated in the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, Bethesda Church, North Ann River and Petersburg. On June 17, 1864, he was wounded in the right hip in a charge on the enemy’s works in front of Petersburg. Captain DeGraff was one of the leading spirits of post E. S. Young, G. A. R. A. H. DeGraff Camp, Sons of Veterans, was named after him. In 1875 Captain DeGraff married Miss Mary M. Smith of Fish House. A man of strict integrity, his death brought deep grief to a large circle of friends.2

The second type of article is harder to find than the first. Articles printed years after an event are best located through a service like the Fulton History site or where every word of every page has been digitized and made searchable. (Remember there are errors so something still may be “impossible” to locate, but at least you have a chance!)

To find the first type of article, look at areas surrounding the location of interest and at papers in towns that a person lived in during their life. In New York, you can consult the New York State Newspaper Project to find the names of papers held on microfilm in various repositories. If you can examine a sample of the paper, you will quickly notice if it contains a section for area news. Then check for the news for about a week after the event date — the further away from the event location, the further the date of publication of an article will be from the event date.

1. “Montgomery County: Amsterdam,” Utica Weekly Herald, 26 Sep 1893, p. 12, col. 4; digital images, Fulton History¬†( : accessed 31 Dec 2009), Utica NY Weekly Herald 1889 – 1892 – 1061.pdf.
2. Frank B. Engel, “How Many Remember? Old Resident Inquires,” Amsterdam Evening Recorder and Daily Democrat, 12 Apr 1945, p. 8, col. 4-5; digital images, Fulton History¬†( : accessed 31 Dec 2009), Amsterdam NY Daily Democrat and Recorder 1945 Feb-Jun Grayscale – 0603.pdf.

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