Some Early History of the Johann Heinrich Cress Family of Clements Tp, NS
This essay summarizes the early history of the family of Johann Heinrich Cress family of Clements Township, Nova Scotia, and provides a general summary of the expansion of that family from that Clements Township base at the southwest end of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, across Annapolis, Digby, Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Colchester, and Pictou counties, into Massachusetts and Maine and eventually across North America. The detailed family database from which this summary is derived is a work several years in the making and was finally brought together in the period 2006-2010 through the collective actions of a number of Cress researchers assisted by an explosion of digital data on the internet in the first decade of the new millennium. The story of the broader family, although generally known, is yet incomplete in detail due to i) a sparseness of available records from about 1780 to 1850 and ii) from the inability to access available records for the period from 1930 to present in the US and from 1911 to present in Canada due to privacy concerns.
This summary derives from a database of some 6700 individuals and 2600 families which detail is intended for eventual publication by the research team set out below. This essay, however, provides general detail only on the first three generations of the family. It also provides in addition some perspective on selected trends within the family over time. Its appearance on this website is intended to make the generalized early history of the family available to the discerning researcher while the development of the intended detailed printed version is in progress.
Deciphering and interpreting the early family history from usually always sparse records tends to be the most frustrating component of family research, while at the same time the most interesting and perhaps the most satisfying. This essay summarizes some of the detail presently available on various individuals of the first and second generations. Its presentation here is designed to provide interested parties, particularly Cress descendants, with an initial perspective of our family’s early history and a more strategic perspective on the family progenitor, his immediate offspring, and the geography and time frame in which they lived. This essay reflects the best information on the early family available to the end of 2010.
On the Man and his Family:
Who was Johann Heinrich Cress?
Johann Heinrich Cress appears to have been one of some 30,000 German mercenaries hired by the British government during the early-mid 1770s from a number of southwestern German principalities. While the bulk of these German troops served in what is today the USA, about 10,000 served in Canada. The mercenaries were intended to assist the British in their North American struggle against the upstart Americans who were demanding secession from British rule and who had taken up arms to underscore that desire. In later years the mercenaries became collectively known as Hessians because the bulk of the German Corps and its commanding general were from the Principality of Hess. Johann Heinrich, however, was reported to have been from “the Ansbach service”, a reference to the smaller principality of Ansbach which, in cooperation with its sister principality of Bayreuth, offered up some 2,500 soldiers for the British cause; their service appears to have been wholly in the US. Of the Ansbach-Bayreuth soldiers committed to the Americas some 1,178 are reported not to have returned to Germany; of the total German contingent it is reported that some 12, 500 did not return home with about 4,800 remaining in the Americas, about 2,400 of which elected to settle in Canada.
The Nova Scotia record indicates that Johann Heinrich was variously known as
Gress, as Griss, as Criss, as Christ, as Kress, and as Cress. The latter name
has been adopted for this essay as it is the name in most common use within the
family today; it was also one of the names (Criss was the other)
with which he was self-identified in Heinrich’s 1817-drafted will and
subsequent legal citation. It is of interest that no Henry Cress/Kress has been
identified within the Ansbach-Bayreuth contingent in North America. [The British
were responsible for paying the German conscripts and in good British fashion
those payroll records continue to exist!]. It is most likely that Johann
Heinrich Cress is in reality one Johann Heinrich Gresel of Bayreuth Company 1
who deserted on December 25, 1782 [while the regiment was being held prisoner by
the Americans in Frederick, MD]. Johann Heinrich Gresel is listed as a deserter
from the Ansbach-Bayreuth regiment in a March 23, 1802 newspaper article in the
German Bayreuther Zeitung newspaper. That article was demanding that
Gresel and 179 other assumed deserters from the same general region of Germany
present themselves to a military court and justify their earlier actions.
At the end of the American Revolution the British made the offer of land in Canada to those Americans who had remained loyal to the British Crown, including existing and former military men who actively supported the British cause. The British made the same opportunity available to its German allies. About 2500 Hessians and former Hessians took up the British offer and settled in Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia (which at that time included New Brunswick). The late Johann Helmut Merz in his 2005 treatise The Hessians of Nova Scotia identified some 233 German military men who served during the American Revolution and were known to have lived for at least some period of time in Nova Scotia after 1783; of that number it appears 102 German allies were offered land grants in Annapolis and Digby Counties, most in Clements Township of Annapolis County, immediately south of the Annapolis Basin and east of the Bear River.
More particularly, the Clements Township land grants were prepared along three baselines – the northerly Waldeck Line, the resulting road still so called today, the southerly Hessian Line, today commonly referred to as the Clementsvale Road, and an intermediary baseline along the base of the Waldeck lots referred to as the Centre or Middle Line. The northern and southern of the three lines were named after the home locations of the majority of grantees who settled along them. Under the authority of Governor John Parr potential grantees were mustered in the late spring of 1784 in a number of locations adjacent to the prospective grants including the communities of Digby, Bear River, and Annapolis. Records of the Bear River muster on June 11 and 25, 1784, shows the presence of one Henry Gress, single, who was to receive, and apparently did receive, a 100 acre grant.
The specific location of that original grant is not known; however, it is likely that it was early sold by Johann Heinrich for the record shows that in 1788 he bought 50 acres of lot #19 on the Waldeck Line and that in 1793 he purchased the remaining half of Lot #19. He eventually transferred this property to his son Peter in 1823 for the sum of 150 pounds.
Johann Heinrich as Henry Cress is recorded to have been baptized in September of 1788 by St Luke’s Anglican Church of Annapolis; the immediate previous entry in the baptismal log is for Christina Cress. It has been assumed from this information that Christina and Henry were husband and wife, perhaps getting baptized in association with their marriage. Further information on Christina’s identity awaits discovery.
Henry’s will, entered for probate in September, 1828, records the makeup of his family. It is likely that wife Christina had died by the time the will was drafted on June 20, 1817, as she is not mentioned in the document. Henry’s children are set out in that manuscript as son Peter, willed Lot #17; son Henry, bequeathed 100ac of Lot #46; daughter Elizabeth, given the other 100ac of Lot #46; son Andrew, willed 100ac of Lot #47; son Jacob, bequeathed the other 100ac of Lot #47; son John bestowed 5 shillings; son Gilbert willed 5 shillings; and daughter “Caty” [Katherine] also bequeathed 5 shillings. At the time of the writing of the will the three latter children were married and likely perceived to be well established.
Heinrich and Christina, identified by headstones as "Mother" and "Father", are believed to be buried in the Cress cemetery on the family Lot #19 in Waldeck West, NS.
The Second Generation – A Snapshot:
Eldest son Peter had already in 1823 purchased Lot #19 from his father for 150 pounds and on the same day his father gave Peter all his chattels including “…a pair of oxen, two cows, a heifer, a calf, a colt, a [ ? ] plough and all the moveables in the house." Peter married a local girl, Harriet Wright in 1822, and is recorded to have had three children. Two of the sons, Angus and Robert, died early and are buried in the Cress cemetery on Lot #19. The third, Fitz Owen Cress, married a cousin, Fannie Cress, and the couple proceeded to have 14 children. Peter died in the Waldeck area in about 1860; his wife Harriett was living with her son Fitz Owen when she died in 1868. She is buried in the Cress cemetery on Lot #19.
Eva Katherine Cress:
Daughter Eva Katherine was baptized in 1791 and is presumed to have been born shortly before that date. Her death has been elsewhere recorded as 1795 but the source of that date has not been determined; in any event her absence in Henry’s 1817-drafted will strongly suggests she had died before that date.
Son Gilbert’s date of birth and date of death are imperfectly known. There is an unsubstantiated year of birth of 1791 for Gilbert as calculated from the 1871 census; his baptism appears to have been carried out in 1797 and his death appears to have occurred in the decade 1871-1881. Gilbert married Mary McKenzie, daughter of a prominent patriarch of Granville Township, William McKenzie, and his wife Hannah Corning, and the couple appears to have had nine children. The marriage was probably accomplished by 1825 as Gilbert purchased land from Mary’s father William in 1826, and daughter Susan was born in March of 1827. Gilbert and family are known to have lived in Granville Township and close to Mary’s brother Alexander. Neither wife Mary nor Gilbert were mentioned in William McKenzie’s 1854-drafted will; this may suggest that i) daughter Mary had died by that time, and/or ii) that Gilbert had not endeared himself to the old patriarch because some of the other widower sons-in-law were recognized in that will. In this regard it may be of interest that all of Gilbert and Mary’s children on which we have some history (seven), except for son Lorenzo Dow, removed themselves away from the Annapolis Basin area to Yarmouth (four), to Boston (one), and to Ontario (one).
In 1857 Gilbert, at an estimated 66 years, married one Catherine Naugler in Lunenburg County’s New Ross area, a lady some 33 years his junior and who is recorded to have had two previous children. The couple proceeded to have an additional four children, three of whom, all girls, died in childhood; two of these died in 1864 within 9 days of each other from scarlet fever. Wife Catherine died in 1912, son Edward, a farmer, has not been traced beyond 1883. It seems most likely that Gilbert moved to New Ross to acquire, or having acquired, land formerly owned by one or the other of his brothers-in-law – John Sheffer or Henry Kritz/Crites.
Gilbert and his offspring formed the one arm of the family that was persistent in retaining the “Criss” spelling of their last name and at least intermittently into the 20th century.
In the 1830’s John Cress and family appears to have lived on the Waldeck Line; later in life he lived in Greenland, adjacent to the Victory corner, on the south side of the most southerly of the four surveyed baselines in the district, a line commonly known as Negro Line because of its intended mission of providing lots for black loyalists and locally freed slaves. John, a farmer, married local girl Annie Peck and the couple had 8 children, all of whom remained in Nova Scotia. One granddaughter, Sarah Lavina Berry, was instrumental in the establishment of the extensive Grand Manan, NB, branch of the Henry Cress family.
Daughter Katherine, or “Caty” as she was referred to in the will, married one John Sheffer in Annapolis in 1817. John Sheffer was with the 7th Battalion of the 60th Regiment of Foot, a regiment which had been developed by the British specifically for duty in the Americas and which to that point in time had seen all its action in the New World. The 7th Battalion arrived in Halifax in 1814 and in 1816 and 1817 members of the Battalion were assigned guard duty in Annapolis. It is not difficult to speculate how a local 18 year old female could be attracted to an imported man in uniform, particularly given their shared German heritage. The 7th Battalion was decommissioned in 1817 and the couple was married in Annapolis in that same year. As a result of his military service John received a land grant in the New Ross area of Lunenburg County circa 1819; their first child was baptized in that county in 1819 followed by four additional children to 1833. Katherine died in 1849; John remarried and then he, too, passed away circa 1859 but not before having at least two children with his second wife Hannah Harris. Subsequent to John’s death his second wife and a number of children from both of John’s families migrated, likely for the improved farming conditions of the Cornwallis Valley, to the Kentville area of Kings County where the name over the years commonly became expressed as Shaffer.
Henry S Cress:
Son Henry Cress appears to be the first of Henry Sr.’s children to be born in the 19th century (1803) and the record shows he was the most prolific; in the period 1826 to 1866 he fathered nine children with his first wife Ann Hooper and an additional six with his second wife Frances Dukeshire. Henry and family appear to have resided on a parcel at the back (or south) end of Lot #19 off the Waldeck Line; Henry bought that parcel from his brother Peter in 1826 and sold it in 1859. Henry’s first wife Ann died before 1849; Henry died in 1868. Subsequent to Henry’s death a number of children from his second family appear to have been fostered-out with family and acquaintances across the County. Three of Henry’s children, all girls, are known to have migrated to ‘the Boston States’; the rest of Henry’s offspring remained in Nova Scotia.
Daughter Elizabeth Cress followed in the footsteps of her older sister Katherine and also married a man in uniform, one Henry Kritz/Crites who, like his brother-in-law John Sheffer, had been with the 60th Regiment of Foot, had spent time doing guard duty in Annapolis, and was of German extraction. The couple was married in Annapolis in 1822 and Henry received a land grant also in the New Ross area, apparently in that same year; their first child was baptized in Lunenburg County in 1824. However, the Kritz/Crites family has been difficult to trace, the last confirmed point of contact with either parents or children being the baptism of daughter Hannah Catherine in Lunenburg County in 1833. From that point on, with one possible exception, the story of the family is highly speculative. This essay suggests that the couple had some seven children and may have abandoned Lunenburg County shortly after the birth of Hannah Catherine. The presence of one female “Crits” in Digby and Annapolis County in the period 1868-1871 and the presence of two post-1838 Cress females in Clements Township claiming parents named Henry and Elizabeth suggest that the couple, or perhaps just Elizabeth, had returned to Clements Township and adopted the closely aligned Cress surname. The one exception noted above is the marriage in Kings County in 1892 of a possible Henry and Elizabeth granddaughter, one Mary E “Critz”, daughter of likely son John Critz and born in Lunenburg County.
Son Jacob Criss has been tagged with both spellings of the last name. He appears to have been born in the 1807 -1810 period. In 1831 he married Lucinda Clark of Granville Township with whom he had five offspring, the last circa 1852; Lucinda died before 1858 in which year he married Rebecca Halliday, also of Annapolis County. Little is known of Jacob’s first two children. It is believed that his third child married locally, perhaps twice, but the record is meager. His fourth offspring, son Stephen, appears as an adult, a non-married fisherman, in the Yarmouth area where he married a widowed first cousin from Gilbert’s clan, Sarah, who died within the next three years. Steven had removed back to Annapolis County by 1891 but little is known of his later years. Jacob’s youngest daughter Ann, born 1852, married locally and had five children before she died in 1881 at 28.
Andrew B Cress:
Andrew Cress appears to have been the youngest of the Henry Cress offspring; his birth is presently slotted between 1811 and 1817. Andrew had married Mary Ann Morse at least by 1849 because wife Mary Ann’s name is found on a land transaction dated that year. Andrew’s will was written in 1853 and only referenced his wife Mary Ann. In the 1861 census the couple had living with them an unknown male child 1-2 years of age. Andrew died in 1863 with no known living children; his widow remarried.
Leaving Clements Township:
The Nova Scotia Cress family originated from humble beginnings on the Waldeck Line in Clements Township of Annapolis County. With the exception of son Gilbert the second generation males tended to remain in Clements Township; Gilbert married a Granville Township girl and as a result moved to the north side of the Annapolis River where his first family was raised. The two Cress daughters, Katherine and Elizabeth, married former soldiers of German extraction from the British 60th Regiment of Foot and settled on land grants in the New Ross area of Lunenburg County. Gilbert followed their example in the mid-1850s and married a second time and raised children in the New Ross area. There is a suggestion in the records that Elizabeth and some of her family may have returned to Clements Township in the early 1830s.
It is with the third generation that we see the beginnings of an exodus out of Annapolis County. Four of Gilbert’s daughters from his first marriage moved to Yarmouth County where they married and raised families; the direction of their exodus was likely due to the example set by a maternal uncle who had earlier made the same pilgrimage. One other daughter, Mary, appears to have immigrated to Massachusetts where she lived for some number of years before possibly returning to Annapolis County. The sixth daughter Eliza Ann was significantly ahead of her time in “going down the road” from Nova Scotia for Ontario c1861 where she married in 1862 at 21 years of age. Her extended family has been traced from Southern Ontario, to marginal farmland in Ontario’s Halliburton country, to marginal farmland in Ontario’s Rainy River District, from whence various branches of the family moved to southeastern Saskatchewan, to the Edmonton area of Alberta, to North Dakota, to Brandon, Manitoba and even back into Ontario.
It is of interest that all six of Gilbert’s daughters early left the familiarity of Annapolis County for places southwest and west and that only his son Lorenzo Dow remained to carry on the family traditions within the county of his birth.
From Henry S Cress’ extensive array of children three of his daughters from his first family immigrated into Massachusetts, while one of his daughters from his second family was the first of the family members to move into northern Nova Scotia (Amherst) and a second eventually made her home into Hants County (Three Mile Plain).
The other significant migration of Johann Heinrich’s grandchildren were two of Katherine (Cress) Sheffer’s children who eventually abandoned New Ross for the Kentville area of Kings County where the extended family grew and prospered under the improved farming opportunities of the Cornwallis Valley.
The fourth generation of the Cress family added more momentum to the exodus out of Annapolis County. Three of Fitz Owen’s family found their way to Massachusetts [although two of the boys eventually moved back to Clements Township] and one to New Hampshire. Of Gilbert’s family in Yarmouth County four of Johann Heinrich’s great grandchildren left Nova Scotia for Massachusetts, and of his Clements Township-born great grandchildren via John Cress two are known to have moved into Digby County, a daughter of one of whom, Sarah Berry, was the progenitor of the significant extension of the Cress family into Grand Manan and New Brunswick’s mainland Charlotte and Saint John counties, while another immigrated into Connecticut and a fourth into Massachusetts. From within the Henry S Cress family nine of Johann Heinrich’s great grandchildren abandoned Annapolis County for Massachusetts, although one there married a Clements Township-based mariner and returned to the county. In addition three of Johann Heinrich’s great grandchildren out of the Henry S Cress family moved to the New Glasgow area of Pictou County.
There are perhaps three reasons for family dispersal from Annapolis County, particularly into Massachusetts. In the first instance high quality land in Annapolis County, particularly in many parts of Clements Township, was in short supply and the existing Cress landholdings were not able to sustain several generations of large families. Secondly, many individuals, particularly the girls, were drawn to the well established wage economy of Boston and other woolen/cotton mill and shoe factory towns in Massachusetts. To girls not married by 18 years the Boston States provided an opportunity to make the break from home and find a means of wage employment while awaiting the next phase of their lives. Finally, immigration was sometimes a means of escape from less than stellar family circumstances. For the most part family members who followed the immigration route appeared to have fared quite well and only occasionally would an individual fall on hard times.
The family experience on New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island appeared to be somewhat different to that in Annapolis County. In spite of large families there was little emigration off Grand Manan until subsequent to World War II when some elements of the fifth generation of Islanders began to seek the benefits of the New Brunswick mainland and to a lesser extent Maine and Ontario. This difference in family emigration dynamics between the Nova Scotia mainland and Grand Manan reflects the fact that the Islanders were tied to the sea and as such were unrestricted in opportunity by land-based property boundaries. In terms of making a living the fishermen were limited only by an individual’s understanding of the sea, the life forms within, how they might be best harvested and marketed, and the energy and organization to succeed in their capture. Sustainability of stock was never an issue.
The record is clear that it has only been since been since WW II that Ontario and Western Canada began to outdraw the Boston States for Nova Scotia-born family members seeking ‘greener pastures’. In that respect Southern Ontario’s manufacturing sector and more recently Alberta’s oil patch have been prime drawing cards.
There have been a scattering of family members moving into or born in Maine and New Hampshire. A particular draw was the Portsmouth, NH shipyards which routed a number of family members to that area, some of whom lived in adjacent Maine. By 2010 the family has touched, or been touched by, every Canadian province and some 28 US states; the heaviest concentrations of the existing family continue to reside in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts.
Enhancements to the family composition over the past eight generations have been received from Aboriginal-America, Afro-America, Bermuda, the British West Indies, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Philippines, Scotland, Sweden, Ukraine, and Wales.
Continuing the Military Tradition:
Johann Heinrich’s presence in Nova Scotia was a result of military service generated out of Germany. The available information suggests he was in fact Johann Heinrich Gresel from the Ansbach – Bayreuth area of Germany who served with the Bayreuth 1st Company and who is reported to have deserted in North America [likely while being held as an American prisoner in Frederick, MD] on Christmas day, 1782.
Two of his daughters, Katherine and Elizabeth, married ex-military men, again of German extraction, who were serving with the British 60th Regiment of Foot in Nova Scotia. That regiment, headquartered in the West Indies, had several Companies posted to Halifax during and after the War of 1812 from which location they were out-posted to a number of garrison towns, Annapolis being one, for guard duty.
Johann Heinrich’s great granddaughter Mary Jane married NB-born Timothy W Riley, a veteran of the US Civil War. Two of her sons, William and Boyd, 2nd great grandsons to Johann Heinrich, served in Europe during WW I. Six of Johann Heinrich’s Riley 3rd great grandsons – Alban, Dennis, Douglas, Edmund, Herbert, and Cleveland – all served in the Canadian Forces during WW ll, another 3rd great grandson, Arnold Paon of Boston, served with the US Army during WW II, and John (Riley) Wiechert of Washington State pursued a post-WW lI career with the US Coast Guard.
Another of Johann’s great granddaughters, Harriett Ann (Cress) York of Clements Tp, had three sons in the Canadian forces in WW l - Howard, Curtis and Ralph; the later two were both killed in separate actions in France on October 30, 1917.
Ernest Elias Henry Cress, a great grandson of Johann Heinrich, served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI, attaining the rank of Sergeant in the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment; he was wounded at Vimy Ridge on Feb 23 and again on April 25, 1917. His granddaughter reports that his life was "saved in one instance because he had his pocket watch in his shirt pocket”.
Clarence Freemont Cress and Roderick Bruce Cress both 2nd great grandsons of Johan Heinrich via Peter and Fitz Owen and born in Massachusetts, had repatriated themselves to Clements Tp circa 1903 and served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WW l.
Freeman Boyd Cress another Johann Heinrich 2nd great grandson born in Round Hill via Henry S and William Avard also served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Rupert A Peck was listed in the 1901 Canadian census as a “soldier in the Halifax garrison” and enlisted in the US Army in 1911 and was discharged in 1914. He was a 2nd great grandson of Henry Cress through the John Cress line.
Avery Cress, another of Johann Heinrich’s 3rd great grandsons and the son of Roderick Bruce Cress won the Military Medal while with the Carleton and York [NB] Regiment during WW II for meritorious service during the Italian campaign.
George Tupper Jr, a fifth great grandson of Johann Heinrich was killed in 1968 in a highway accident in Connecticut while a corporal in the US Marines.
Terrance Crabtree, a native of Maine and a 4th great grandson of Johann Heinrich, was a career pilot with the US Air Force during the last two decades of the 20th century.
A number in the male line of the Nova Scotia family in the late decades of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century served on a part time volunteer-basis in militia units in Nova Scotia.
Some Tragedy in the Records:
‘Tough times’ is perhaps the easiest way to encapsulate the lifestyle of rural Nova Scotians through the 19th and early part of the 20th century. That same descriptor applies equally as well for the working folk of the New England towns and cities. Families worked long hours to simply ‘make a living’, children commonly went to the fields or the factory as young teenagers, or in a few instances even before. Accidents were common in the fields, at sea, and on the factory floor. Hunger was not an unknown commodity. Medical knowledge was in its infancy and the detection of tuberculosis or cancer was almost an invitation to an early demise during the last half of the 19th century. Contagious diseases such as scarlet fever, diphtheria, dysentery, cholera, and small pox occasionally raised their ugly head and commanded the presence of a family member, particularly children. The Great Depression enhanced the difficulty of the ‘tough times’ during the 1930s, particularly for those tied into the wage economy. And finally war, particularly the 20th Century’s WW I and WW II, laid its own pall over the landscape of the North American family.
The record of the Cress family in North America captures the essence of these ‘tough times’. However, as with every family some circumstances rise above the others in the sense of the tragedy they generate. A few examples of such poignant tragedy from the record of the Cress family:
· Gilbert Criss and second wife Catherine Naugler lost two female children to scarlet fever within 9 days of each other in September 1864.
· The loss of Arnold Neaves in Feb 1914 from a schooner in the Gulf Stream.
· Two of Harriet (Cress) York’s sons Curtis and Ralph, both reported killed in action in Europe on the same day, Oct 31, 1917.
· The loss of Harley Miller, mariner, on Grand Manan Island in June 1951 by drowning while sport fishing on fresh water
· The Christmas Eve double shooting in Clementsvale in 1956 which took the life of Meredith Cress
· The loss of Herbert Cress to a gunshot wound in Atlanta, Georgia in 1978.
· The loss of Elizabeth (Hewey) Riley and her daughter Tammy in the Lequille River in June of 1979
The keen researcher will probably spot additional examples of tragic events in the history of the family.
Some Interesting Family Observations:
Analyses of available information on the Johann Heinrich extended family shows:
· The peak of lifespan of family members was in the 70-79 year bracket, followed by the 80-89 year period and then the 60-69 age group. There was a not unexpected relatively high incidence of death of children in the 0-9 age bracket, but if a child made it to 10 years of age his chances of dying within the next decade were reduced by some 300 percent.
· The oldest age of a family member recorded from the available data was for Jennie Mae (Riley) Floyd, daughter of Mary Jane Cress, who died in Wakefield, MA in 1986 in her 99th year.
· The greatest recorded age span between husband and wife is about 43 years between Thomas Wagstaff, born c 1816, and his third wife Agnes Cress, born c 1859.
· The youngest age recorded at the time of marriage is shared by two individuals i) Flora McIntosh who was 13 in 1842 when she married Peter Phinney, in Snowdon Tp, in Ontario’s Halliburton County, and ii) Elizabeth Cameron who was also 13 when she married Zachias Millner in Bear River, NS in 1870.
· The records would suggest that Gilbert Cress may be the oldest father in the family with his last offspring born when he was 74 years of age.
· The most common birth month for family members was April, followed closely by May. It would follow that the most common month of conception was firstly July followed closely by August.
· The month reporting the most deaths was December; February and April were the months with the next highest number of deaths. For some reason June lead as the month in which the fewest family members died.
· Somewhat surprisingly, June was rated as only the third most favorite month in which to get married; August and then September both outranked June. Not unsurprisingly wintery March was the least desirable month in which to commit to the marriage vows.
· The most common number of children per family was two, followed by single child families and then three child families. Several families were filled out with twelve or more children. Clarence Edward Cress and wife Anna Beatrice Larrimore appear to carry the record for the largest number of children by a single couple with 15. Henry S Cress matched that number but over the span of two wives, Anna Hooper being a mother of nine and Frances Dukeshire a mother of six.
· The family’s first university degree may have been awarded to John (Riley) Weichert (6th generation) in the late 1940s-early 1950s as part of his officer training regimen for the US Coast Guard.
· The record of the post WWII generations shows the introduction of several subtle changes within the family mirroring trends in North American society in general :
o The pattern of first names has quite distinctively tended to migrate away from the traditional Germanic/English favorites of ‘William’, ‘George’, ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Mary’ to the introduction of a more romantic naming pattern as exemplified by ‘Jared’, ‘Shane’, ‘Natasha’ and ‘Kelci’.
o Marriage breakdown in the 19th and early 20th centuries tended to be an organic and informal process marked by the parties simply going their separate ways, with the female occasionally re-identifying as a widow. In the last half of the 20th century formal divorce can be seen to have become an increasing trend, in part because it has become easier to accomplish and in part because in today’s more legalistic world it is a requirement to ensure financial and custodial requirements are appropriately accommodated.
o The record shows an increasing trend toward young single motherhood and to couples electing to enter into common-law relationships previous to, or occasionally instead of, marriage.
On the Development of the Cress Research:
The database from which the material for this essay was extracted was generated via the efforts of a number of prime contributors. The eventual production of a printed Cress family history had been conceptually considered in the past by the lead contributor and nominated editor Luella (Hicks) Marshall; however, it was not until a number of contributors serendipitously came together circa 2005 that the initiative really began to bear fruit.
In the first instance Luella (Hicks) Marshall of Barton, NS, a 3rd great granddaughter of Johann Heinrich through the Joseph Cress and father Henry S Cress line, already had some Cress files on hand as a result of her work on the Nova Scotia Marshall and Starrett families. She had been casually collecting additional Cress family data with a view to possibly publishing the material sometime in the future.
Lois (Wilkinson) Jenkins of Annapolis Royal, NS, born in New Hampshire, had married Ronald Jenkins, a 4th great grandson of Johann Heinrich via the Peter Cress and Fitz Owen line, and as a result found herself immigrating to the centre of Nova Scotia’s Clements Township. Lois brought to the project two main components: i) perhaps the most detailed knowledge available of the general family histories of the residents/former residents of Clements Township, including connections elsewhere in Annapolis/Digby/Lunenburg counties, and a critical, extensive knowledge of the history of the Waldeck and Hessian line lots.
Allen Humphries of Saugus, MA, became involved with the project through research he had carried out for his friend, Marguerite (Haigh) Rizzo, another 3rd great granddaughter of Johann Heinrich through William Avard and his father Henry S Cress. Allen has coordinated and improved detail on input from a number of researchers on the US side of the family including Ron Foote and wife Hazel (Watmough) Foote of Rochester, NH; the Watmough siblings of Union and Hope, ME; and Violet Geraldine ‘Gerry’ (Cress) Chambers, latterly of MA. This work assisted the project with detail on much of the extended William Avard family in Massachusetts.
Linda (Geyer) Danielson of ME, another 3rd great granddaughter of Johann Heinrich via the Fitz Owen and Peter Cress branch, brought the US detail of the Fitz Owen heritage to the table.
Ray Riley, of Thunder Bay, ON, a 4th great grandson of Johann Heinrich via George E Sr. and his father Henry S Cress, made available his research on the NS/MA Riley component of the family, and subsequently constructed the underpinnings of the Gilbert Criss family in Yarmouth Co and in Ontario and points west.
Heather (Leighton) Waddingham of Kingston, ON, a 5th great granddaughter of Johann Heinrich via Lavinia (Cress) Berry and her father John Cress, contributed the detail of the Grand Manan and associated southern NB/ME component of the John Cress family.
Betty (Cress) Hollick of Portsmouth, NH, another 3rd great granddaughter of Johann Heinrich also through the William Avard and Henry S Cress line, assisted in clarifying the details of some of the William Avard extended family in MA, NH and ME.
Two other individuals indirectly contributed to the success of the project:
Wayne Walker of Ottawa over the past decade has been much involved in family history research in Annapolis and Digby Counties and has made available on-line his extensive files on wills and probate in those two Counties and has shared a compiled CD of Annapolis County marriage records from a number of sources.
Fortuitously, Annapolis County resident Wayne Trimper, also a descendent of good Hessian stock, self-published c2005 the definitive Annapolis County Trimper genealogy which listed many marriage connections with the Cress family.
The Research Tools:
Beginning in the late 1990s genealogy started to come into its own via the Internet; that trend continued and quickened to 2010. Without the extensive availability of records on the Internet this compilation would not have been possible in the time frame in which it was developed. Of highest significance:
· Family Search.org, the on-line genealogy website of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, made a significant component of its extensive database collection available on-line in the early part of the decade
· Over the decade the Canadian and US census were indexed and made available on-line
· The MA Archives in cooperation with the New England Historical Genealogical Society indexed and made available the historical Massachusetts vital statistics on-line
· The Nova Scotia Archives likewise posted its historical Nova Scotia vital statistics package on line during the latter part of the decade
At another level a number of websites have sprung up exclusively devoted to genealogy. The most extensive of these is the commercial site Ancestry.com and its sister site Ancestry.ca which has the largest single collection of family history data on the Internet. Another extensive source of on-line family data is the GenWeb system which operates, generally on a no-cost basis, at the provincial and state levels, the county level, and even down to some individual community levels. Since the GenWeb system generally works on a volunteer basis there is a high variance in the types of data available; however, it always bears checking because those sites often contain gems not elsewhere available.
Admiral Digby Museum in Digby, NS, O’Dell House Museum in Annapolis Royal, NS, and the Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia have all been a significant source of local information used to compile the current database.
The Records and Their Limitations:
In general, the further back in time the poorer the records; thus we have holes in our understanding of Johann Heinrich and his immediate family in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Perhaps one exception to this rule is in Massachusetts where extensive records of births, deaths, and marriages were maintained by the local towns from the 1680s onward. Census taking in the US became regularized in 1790 and in Canada in 1851-1852. Prior to those dates census were ad hoc and irregular. However, even after processes were implemented to collect vital statistics many individuals, particularly but not exclusively in rural areas, failed to register.
For the most part the collection of vital statistics information by the state on individuals (births, deaths, marriages) began in earnest in Canada after 1864, even though there are several periods in the early days when the argument between provinces and the federal government over dollars resulted in the non-collection of the information (in NS that was between 1877 and 1908 for birth and death information). In contrast, early vital statistics information was often recorded by the church and church records become the general source of such data in Nova Scotia prior to 1864 and for the period 1877-1908 when the state was shirking its responsibility.
A second similar general principle is that the further west in North America the sparser the records, particularly in Canada where western settlement really did not begin in earnest until the 1890s. One exception to this principle is the extensive set of records generated by the Hudson Bay Company and now held by the Manitoba Archives.
Both U.S. and Canadian authorities for privacy reasons have constrained the availability of recent records, e.g., census and vital statistics. Both jurisdictions generally hold birth information confidential for approximately 100 years, death information for about 80 years and marriage information for about 60 years. At present US authorities have released their 1940 census; the latest census available in Canada is the 1921 version. The effect of privacy legislation on the Cress family database is the lack of detail on the most recent generations; reliable family information has only been available from family members and/or obituaries.
Occasionally, information can be erroneously entered in a record. Males today have a tendency today to forget dates; be assured they did so as well in the 1800s. Infrequently registrars in the throes of summarizing annual records into indices (which not infrequently represent the best data available) may have duplicated names one entry to the next. Finally, the record shows that the accuracy of the recall of those of us aged more than ‘two score years and ten’ (and sometimes less) can occasionally be a bit off the mark requiring available information to be scanned for its reasonableness and not simply taken at face value.
Rarely, the real challenge comes when the information received is not in keeping with what is expected and the researcher makes an incorrect assumption about the data. For instance, the team had originally interpreted the parents of Ambrose Cress’ wife Elvira Cress, reported in church records to be a relative, as the daughter of Henry S Cress and a third wife Elizabeth. This was in spite of the fact that there was no other available evidence suggesting the presence of a third wife. Complicating this matter even more was the record of Elvira’s son Obed’s death wherein the respondent, Elvira’s granddaughter removed to the US for the previous 30 years, reported Elvira’s maiden name to be Wilson. Eventually a more realistic option appeared suggesting that Elvira was likely Elizabeth Crites, likewise a cousin, but the daughter of Elizabeth (Cress) and Henry Kritz/Crites of New Ross. The example illustrates that while it may be advantageous to be working on an hypothesis where real data is lacking, there is a need for the researcher to remain flexible in his or her thinking when new conflicting information comes to light.
And Finally, Why Are the Contributors Involved?
Some of the readers must be asking the question as to why all the contributors have been so intimately involved over several years in trying to decipher the history of the Nova Scotia Cress family? The actual answer turns out to be the fact that we have become captured by the process.
Most individuals doing genealogical research (most of whom, by the way, are over 50 years of age) start out with a bit of a curiosity about their own family history and began a methodical process of attempting to uncover the details of perhaps the first four or five generations past. This almost always begins (and so it should!) by having an initial discussion with great aunt Edith or great grandfather Louis. Inevitably in that process the tyro researcher uncovers some unexpected historical details about one or another family member, or perhaps they even find great grandfather’s ‘lost’ brother in a cemetery outside Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.
In each case these ‘finds’ provide a bit of an emotional rush of discovery. To most individuals those little emotional rushes are ‘nice but not necessary’ and after they have bound the report on the first four or five generations and distributed same to immediate family members, they set about discovering their next interest in life. To a few however, and you can include the contributors to the Cress database in that number, those little rushes, particularly when they have been many and more intense, and particularly when coupled with an inherent individual need to arrange items (any items!) in some sort of logical order (except perhaps their offices!) the benefits received are sufficient to compel them to stay with the process and to keep looking under the next rock or over the next brick wall for that single missing record that will prove that great, great grandfather Charles was indeed married to the illegitimate daughter of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane as oral family history suggests.
When the individual has reached that stage they have been captured by the process of looking and finding. Contributor Ray Riley, a geologist, likens it to a grizzled old gold prospector who, after selling a block of claims for a princely sum, is not out spending the fruits of his hard earned labor but rather can be found up the next mountain valley seeking to locate the next gold mine. He, too, has been captured by the process of seeking to which the goal of finding becomes almost incidental and simply an excuse to change river valleys.
To this end all the contributors to the Cress database have attained the honorable stature of ‘grizzled old prospector’.
Ray A Riley