Genealogy & Local History in Buffalo, NY
|Search Through Time Turns Up Surprises|
By Cynthia Van Ness, MLS
The proud new
owners had been told that Grover Cleveland was
a frequent guest at their property. I
helped them find the building permit for their address—dated 1915. Grover
In my own family, we learned of a half-sibling whose existence was secret for 50 years. It was a shock to discover that I was the 4th of four daughters instead of the 3rd of three. We found our new sister and it has been a joy.
Not everyone is so fortunate. I know of genealogists being shunned by relatives after discovering inconvenient facts that toppled beloved family legends. For decades, the descendents of Thomas Jefferson indignantly rejected the story that he had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings, until DNA evidence proved the Heming descendents right.
Today, our city
faces a similar conflict over history. The
professional historians who compiled the new
Historic Structures Report on the
I assisted with
research for this report and my peer-reviewed
article on the Underground Railroad in
Instead, I found
a revealing counter-narrative. Frederick
Douglass Paper of January 4, 1855 carried an extraordinary letter
the Underground Railroad by name, signed by George Weir, Jr., of
We learn four important things from this letter:
1) George Weir,
who was African-American, could read and
write. Recent suggestions that oral
legend is the only possible evidence of the church’s history
level of literacy in this community.
2) George Weir
felt safe advertising his and
3) George Weir took his guests to highly public places, making no effort to conceal them.
4) Most importantly,
George Weir’s father was Pastor George Weir, Sr., of the
Weir’s letter disproves the
Copyright ©2013, all rights reserved. Originally published in shortened form in the Buffalo News, June 13, 2013.