Posted tagged ‘Homer Rayson’

Church Records: A Gift from Above, Part I

December 10, 2010

When Private Homer Rayson of Co. G, 308th Infantry, 77th Division, was killed on October 19, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was mourned by two families – his birth family and his church family.  Homer was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, New York.  A newspaper article stated that  Homer’s church had erected a plaque in his honor.  Intrigued, I contacted current Associate Pastor Carrie Mitchell for more information.  Ms. Mitchell directed me to First Presbyterian’s Historian, Dick Crawford.  Mr. Crawford graciously offered to meet me at the church to show me the plaque which still hangs in a place of honor. 

World War I plaque, First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, NY

A week later, we met and discussed the reason for my visit.  After photographing commemorative plaques bearing the names of the men and women who had participated in both World Wars and being given a tour of the church by Mr. Crawford, we ended up in the administrative offices.  It was there I saw the records.

First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, New York, has been in existence since the mid-1820s.  During that time, the church endured two fires; first in 1861 and then again in 2004 when it was struck by lightning.  The resilient churchgoers, with the assistance of the community, rebuilt both times.  Despite these trials the church records, dating back to 1825, miraculously remained intact and untouched by the flames.  It was these record books that Mr. Crawford showed me. 

My excitement grew as I perused the records.  The names of many of my Civil War boys were recorded in the older books.  Wiltsie.  Light.  Shepard.  COOK.  Finally!  The Cook family that no one seemed to remember was listed in the records of the First Presbyterian Church.  It served to validate the fact that they were real, and not just a figment of my active imagination. 

First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, NY

The records of the First Presbyterian Church have given me a fresh insight into these families.  In them, I have discovered the middle name of the missing Cook boy, Edward.  Information about W. Miller Shepard’s death and surviving family members were listed.  Who knows what other nuggets of information will be gleaned from them as I read from page after page?  Time will tell.

Special thanks go to First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford Historian Dick Crawford and Associate Pastor Carrie Mitchell for allowing me access to these local treasures.

Coming soon:  Church Records:  A Gift from Above, Part II, a visit to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Henry L. Miller, Lost at Belleau Wood

October 29, 2010

He was supposed to be a farmer, like his father.  But when the United States entered the Great War, Henry L. Miller felt a patriotic duty to join the fight.  Henry enlisted in Co. M, 49th Infantry of the regular Army, on July 26, 1917.  Soon thereafter, he transferred into Co. M, 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division and began training in Syracuse.  Little more than one month later, young Miller shipped overseas.

Henry L. Miller was born in Perinton, New York, on April 23, 1895, but moved to Pittsford, New York, at an early age.  The third child of Charles and Reka Miller, he was their first son.  Three more daughters and another son, Norman, later joined the Miller family.  Dorothy, Henry’s youngest sibling, was just 9 years old when he went overseas.  She must have been so proud of her big brother.  Henry no doubt smiled as he received the packages of letters from his sisters and brother which sporadically reached him somewhere in France.

The letters Henry wrote home most likely inspired both pride and fear in his parents.  Henry wrote of life at the front.  He mentioned the six weeks he had spent in the trenches before being allowed a short period of rest.  He talked of going “over the top” of the trenches to pitch headlong into the thick, German artillery fire.  Somehow, Henry managed to survive.  Then came Belleau Wood.

On June 6, 1918, the Marines stationed with the 23rd Infantry sustained casualties of 31 officers and nearly 1,100 men.  The 23rd Infantry also lost many good men, including Henry L. Miller.  Four weeks after the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Miller family received official notification that Henry was missing in action.  It took another three weeks before Charles and Reka Miller were formally notified that their son, Private Henry L. Miller, had died at Belleau Wood on June 6.  Henry was buried in France and would remain there for three long years until his parents could bring him back to Pittsford.

Henry L. Miller

“Hero’s Body Arrives” touted the local papers.  Henry L. Miller was home.  On September 11, 1921, the remains of Henry Miller were interred at Pittsford Cemetery.  He was laid to rest beside his grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Lussow Mueller.  The military honor guard that oversaw the burial were members of a one-year old American Legion Post known as Rayson-Miller Post 899, so named after Homer Rayson, who was killed in action in October, 1918, and Henry L. Miller.  This year, the Rayson-Miller Post celebrated their 90th anniversary. 

The Miller family of Pittsford has a proud history of military service.  Beginning back in the Civil War when Henry’s grandfather, Henry L. Mueller, fought for the Union with the 8th NY Cavalry, the Millers have had over 15 family members serve in the armed forces.  These Miller men have served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and in the Persian Gulf.  Something tells me Henry L. Miller would be extremely proud of such a legacy.

In the Works

June 23, 2010

E.J. Tyler Post 288 banner, Pittsford, New York

Now that my Pittsford and Greenvale Cemetery tours are over, I’m working on some exciting projects for the summer and fall. 

First is the booklet I’m writing about the charter members of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The Post was organized in 1920, taking over where G.A.R. – E. J. Tyler Post 288 left off.  One of the charter members, Howard R. Bacon, was a son of Civil War soldier John Buckley Bacon.  The booklet will also commemorate the two men after whom the Post was named – Homer Rayson and Henry L. Miller.  In conjunction with the booklet is my October 30th presentation for the Rayson-Miller Post, which is open to the public.

In October, I will once again pair with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson to give a tour of Pioneer Burying Ground.  Despite the inevitable rain, discussing the pioneers of the town is always interesting.  Soldiers of nearly every conflict from the Revolutionary War through World War II are interred at the Pioneer Burying Ground.

Also in the works is a research project for the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  I am in the process of culling the Rochester City Directories and census records in order to produce a comprehensive list of nurses in the Rochester, New York area from the Civil War through World War II.  Using newspaper reports and genealogical sources, an article I’m writing will feature the love story between a Civil War doctor and a nurse.  A second article is about a Rochester nurse who was accused of insanity…all because she chose to give away her personal belongings to friends instead of the family members she despised.

There are plans for the continued illumination of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  She was an amazing woman with an incredible story to tell. 

It  looks as if it will be a busy summer.  Just the way I like it!


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