Hartford Heritage


Granddaughters' first trip into the Big Apple . . . check!

Family connection to NYC, the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus . . . check!

Now on to learning a bit more — actually, a LOT more — about their Connecticut family and ties to Hartford and other cities. A couple of years ago, we ventured to southern Connecticut and visited Mystic (yes, Mystic Pizza is quite good) and Stonington, where Grampy wanted to show all of us the Stanton homestead. Thomas Stanton was an ancestor of Grampy, Katie, Jain and Sofia on Grampy's mother's side. Jain and Sofia learned that Stanton was quite an important figure in his time. He managed to keep two Indian tribes at peace with each other and the English settlers in the earliest days of Connecticut's history (1600s), in great part because he was fluent in the language of the Pequots and Mohegans. In addition to being a founder of Hartford, he was a founder of Stonington, where he befriended the Mohegan chief, Uncas, and assisted him in writing his will. We never did find the Stanton homestead, but the girls learned a lot about their genealogy.

This summer we continued the history lesson with a visit to two cemeteries. Before the girls arrived, we went to Mount St. Benedict, in Bloomfield, Connecticut, with Auntie Lynn and finally located Tom's great-grandmother Emilie Stoddart's marker. Emilie's story is fascinating as well. Her line of Stanton forebears moved from Connecticut to Nova Scotia in the 1750s to farm land abandoned by the Acadian French (we know them today as the Cajuns of Louisiana, where they ended up) after their defeat by the British. After her husband, Allan James Levy, was killed in battle in World War I, she was forced to place her children in a Catholic orphanage while she trained to become a nurse so she could support them. Later, she remarried and emigrated with her new husband and her children to Hartford — the very city that, probably unbeknownst to Emilie, her ancestors had founded three centuries earlier. It's through Levy that Grampy, Katie and the girls are related to Emma Lazarus, who wrote the sonnet immortalized on the Statue of Liberty.

Our hotel in East Hartford overlooked the Connecticut River and the pedestrian Founders Bridge. We crossed the river into downtown Hartford one morning to visit a graveyard where family members who founded the city in 1636 are buried. Along the way, the girls noticed symbols in the cast iron railing on the bridge and were curious about their significance. The tree is the Charter Oak, where the royal document guaranteeing limited self-government to Connecticut was hidden so it couldn't be confiscated by agents of the next king; the church is Center Church, the oldest church in Hartford; the building is the Old State House, the state's first capitol; and the airplane symbolizes Connecticut's place in aviation (most passenger and military planes are kept aloft by Pratt & Whitney engines). What looked like a dog's paw print was stamped on concrete section of the bridge, and for a minute we couldn't figure that one out. Finally it occurred to one of us it's the UConn Husky, mascot of the flagship state university! Who knew walking across a bridge would offer such a fun way to teach a bit of state history?

Our destination was the very same Center Church and its historic cemetery. There we embarked on a graveyard scavenger hunt for headstones with the name Lord, and successfully found those of the parents and other family members of Anna Lord, Thomas Stanton's wife. Thomas Lord, Anna's father, was the first physician in Connecticut. We could only take photos since grave rubbings are not allowed, the markers being too old and fragile from the passage of time and inclement weather. As a result, some markers were quite difficult to read, but that just made the hunt more challenging!

There are no Stantons buried in the Center Church cemetery (Thomas and Anna were buried in Stonington), but an obelisk was placed by descendants of Hartford's founders that names all of them, including Thomas Stanton. So, photos taken, genealogy learned ... check!

We proceeded to walk back toward the East Hartford side of the river, but decided to take a respite from the heat in the Old State House. Inside was a history museum where we could learn even more about Connecticut! Jain and Sofia relished dressing up in colonial fashions and UConn women's basketball uniforms (UConn has won 10 national titles in women's basketball and four in men's basketball and the teams are revered statewide), pretending to be a television newscaster, looking at all the antiques on display and learning about some of Connecticut's famous sons and daughters such as Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. They greatly admired the LEGO Mark Twain house at Bradley airport, so a visit to the real house is planned for their next visit!

Our walk into Hartford was fun and informative. Not only did the girls learn about their Connecticut roots, they also learned the most important thing about history. What happened in the past affects how we live today. Who knows whether Thomas Stanton's quest for peace with the Indians carried through to present day and gave them an awareness of other cultures and a desire to live in unity with others? So much has been revealed to us in this past year about our genealogy, it gives us pause to reflect and wonder, "Oh, maybe that's why I like ..." or "I also wanted to go to Nova Scotia. Now I know why!"

Interestingly, growing up, Grampy never realized his family's connection to this history. He went swimming at Lord Pool in East Hartford, where he grew up.  Was it named after the Lord family? Probably. Until a year or so ago, he never even knew he was related to the Lords. Friends of ours in Georgia are Lords and, as revealed in genealogical research, BOTH husband and wife are related to Grampy! The mother of Grampy's college roommate was the pastor at Center Church and Grampy worked one summer at the Center Church's camp, again never realizing the family's connection to the church until much later in life.

History is important. It links us to people and family we never knew but might very well have affected us in many ways. History give us connections to parts of the country where other family members lived, and it certainly broadens our view of the world. Visiting cemeteries, museums, historical towns and homesteads and listening to the stories of older family members makes all that history come alive and become more real to us. I urge you, gentle readers, to take every opportunity to explore your own genealogy with your children and grandchildren. Document it with photos, especially, so that the history lessons become a valued part of their lives. And, above all, while doing so remember, as Grampy says, to ...