Brick Wall Cracked? Robert Nelson Stewart & Eliza Augusta Grass

I really believe that sometimes the ancestors are up there guiding us down a research path. Last night, I dreamed about Robert Nelson Stewart, younger brother of my 2X great grandfather, Charles Augustus Stewart. This morning, my first task was to take a new look.

Robert Nelson Stewart has been a thorn in my side for years, as I have both his birth record – 31 August 1826 – and his marriage record to Eliza Augusta Grass – 16 March 1860 – both in Charlotte, Washington County, Maine, but I have never been able to find him in a census record, or any other kind of record for that matter. Eliza was the daughter of Israel Grass and Eliza Howland. The Grass progenitor was Jacob Grass, a Loyalist.

Today, though, I do believe I’ve found a chink in the brick wall. One of my favorite search tricks is to enter just the surnames of parents in the FamilySearch records search engine. Sometimes, the names are too common. Stewart certainly is, but Grass is much less so, so I tried that combination. Only one hit came up:

Death Record of Pethias Ellsmore Beach, 1935
Cranston, Rhode Island

Pethias’s parents were given as “Unknown Stewart” and “Unknown Grasse,” Pethias was evidently a female, born c1870, married to one Louis M. Beach. She was definitely the right age to be a child of Robert and Eliza and, living in Rhode Island, there was a New England connection. Many Maine residents moved to Massachusetts or Rhode Island at one point or another in my family. Later, I was able to complete her birth date as 17 July 1870, New Brunswick, Canada.

I knew “Pethias” was going to be a tough search because the name had that mangled look to it, so I tried Louis M. Beach. Up popped a marriage record for “Pethiar” E. Stewart and Lewis M. Beach on 6 September 1887 in Calais, Maine. That made me realize I was probably on the right trail because Charlotte is a very tiny town near Calais.

Next, I checked a book on my reference shelf,  Vital Records from the Eastport Sentinal of Eastport, Maine 1818-1900, edited by Kenneth L. Willey (Picton Press), and found that Pethiah (New England accents frequently add an R to the end of words – I grew up answering to Linder) was listed in the book, but as “Petdar” Stewart marrying Lewis M. Beach on 6 September 1887, but with one extra clue – both were residents of Vanceboro, like Calais located in Washington County, and about 30 miles north of the city of Calais. It lies right on the Canadian border.

All of these pieces were beginning to make sense. The Stewart family had migrated from Sussex, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada before 1820, but I knew there were still family ties in New Brunswick. I had always suspected that Robert had moved across the border, but I couldn’t find him in the 1861, 1871 or any other Canadian census.

Next, I checked for Pethiah Stewart in the 1880 census index, but, not surprisingly, nothing came up. Vanceboro is a small town, so I decided to browse the pages. I hit double gold with this one:

“Pathia Roach,” adopted daughter of James H. Roach

First, in Household #20, we have James H. Roach, 64 with wife Eliza, 37, stepson Israel D. Stewart 17, born Maine, plus Clara E. Roach, aged 12, Pathia Roach, aged 10, listed as adopted daughters of James and both born in New Brunswick. Five doors away, we have Israel Grass, 76, and wife Eliza, 68, both born New Brunswick. I think I’m on to something here. 🙂

My next step was to check my favorite Canadian source – PANB, the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. They have one search engine that searches all their databases.  I got a couple of hits here, too:

Newspaper Announcement of Pethiah’s Marriage

The second hit was a surprise:

Death Announcement of Elerdey Stuart Roach

Elerdey, or actually Elerda, is an uncommon given name, but it is a girl’s name. This little girl is identified as the daughter of Mrs. Eliza Roach. She died in Vanceboro, aged 10 years, 8 months and 15 days. this provided me with both the name of another Stewart child and also the detail that Eliza was remarried and living in Vanceboro by 7 December 1875, the date of Elerda’s death.

Next, I checked to see if there was another marriage for Eliza, James Roach was almost three decades older than her. Up popped one hit:

Eliza Roach – John McNutt Marriage

Lastly, I checked for a Vanceboro death record:

Eliza McNutt, Death Certificate 1921

Eliza outlived three husbands, assuming that Robert died and they didn’t divorce. That is one loose end I need to search for in land and probate records in New Brunswick, Canada.

I can now reconstruct a family for Robert Nelson Stewart and Eliza Augusta Grass. Robert was born 31 August 1826, Charlotte, Washington, Maine and apparently died between October 1869 (the time when daughter Pethiah would have been conceived) and 7 December 1875 when Eliza is called Mrs. Roach. He most likely died before 1871 when Pethiah said she moved to the U.S.

Eliza was born on Christmas Day, 25 December 1843 in New Brunswick, Canada. She died on 12 January 1921. She married (2) James H. Roach, probably 1870-1875 in New Brunswick, Canada (3) John McNutt, 30 December 1896, Vanceboro, Washington, Maine.

Robert and Eliza had the following children:
1. Israel D., born c1863, Maine; died after the 1880 census.
2. Elerda, born c23 March 1865, based on her age of 10 years, 8 months and 15 days at death; died 7 December 1875, Vanceboro, Washington, Maine.
3. Clara E., born c1868, New Brunswick, Canada; died after 1880 census
4. Pethia Ellsmore, born 17 July 1870, New Brunswick, Canada; died 16 August 1935, Providence, Providence, Rhode Island; married Lewis Milford Beach, 6 September 1887, Calais, Washington, Maine. According to the 1900 census, Pethia had given birth to three children, only one surviving. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1871. One child who died young was daughter Luella Irene, born 21 December 1895, who died 22 March 1896, in Cranston, Providence, Rhode Island. Son Everett Francis was born on 6 January 1888 in Vanceboro, Maine; died 12 February 1949, Providence, Providence, Rhode Island. He married a lady named Jenny, also born c1888, but it appears that they had no children. The third Beach child is unknown, but Pethiah has no living descendants today.

If Robert and Eliza have descendants today, they would be through son Israel or daughter Clara E., neither of whom have been found after the 1880 census. Like their parents before them, they may have crossed the border and lived their lives in Canada.

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