Historian's Corner

Charlene Cole
Sandy Creek/Lacona Historian
Historian's Corner
January 10, 2014

Photo: Nanette Hamer

Nanette Hamer, One of My Favorite “¾” Cousins
By Marie Kent Parsons, former Historian, Town of Sandy Creek.
In an issue of the Salmon River News, Town of Sandy Creek Historian, Charlene Cole paid tribute to Nanette Hamer, one of our predecessors in that office. So, yours truly decided to add her two cents worth, to explain the debt that I also owe Nanette – for being so thorough a historian and such a generous person.

Now, just how does one acquire a three-quarter cousin? Downright impossible one could say! Unless, you have a great-great-grandfather who married twice, to two full sisters! That happened to Samuel Cross of the Town of Fowler, in St. Lawrence County, in the 1850’s, when his first, young wife, died suddenly and left him with three small children, including his oldest son, Palmer D. Cross. One of Palmer’s younger sisters by Samuel’s second wife, Alma Exford, a full sibling of his mother, Sarah Exford Cross, was Mary Cross Pruyn. (Of course, the three-quarter designation is simply an “in” family joke.)

Mary wed Franklin Pruyn of the Town of Sandy Creek, and they were the parents of three daughters; Mabel, Blanche and Josephine (Josie). Josie died young, soon after she had graduated from Sandy Creek High School, and Blanche became the wife of Will Hedger of Lacona. Their children were: Josie, Kenneth, Howard and Edna Hedger, full cousins to Nanette Hamer and Kathryn Hamer Widrig, lifelong local residents, the daughters of Thomas and Mabel Pruyn Hamer of Lacona.
In 1869, Mabel Hamer’s Uncle Palmer Cross, a veteran of the 24th Infantry and the 24th Calvary in the Civil War, had married Sarah Jeanette Moore of the Town of Boylston. They became the parents of Mina and Sheridan (Sherd) Cross. Mina married Edward Waggoner and they lived in the Towns of Sandy Creek and Richland (Grampa Wag liked to trade farms!). They were the parents of my mom, Una Waggoner Kent (Mrs. E. Floyd Kent).

Now, of course, we have learned enough about genetics to know that the fact that Samuel Cross’ first two wives were sisters meant that their combined children were basically full siblings. (Yes, Sam Cross later had another wife, but that’s a different story. I shall say only that I met my Great-Grandfather Cross’ youngest half-sister, once, in the early 1960’s – and she looked very like his mature photos.) But, Nanette and my Mom were second cousins, which made me a second-cousin, once removed, of the Hamers and Hedgers. (Yes, I was adopted by Floyd and Una Kent, but, genealogically speaking, if one counts legal marriages as legitimate parts of the family tree, then one must also count legal adoptions!)

Nanette, like my Dad, did not use her first name, Mary (for her maternal grandmother) except to sign her legal signature, and then only as the initial: M. Nanette Hamer. Both Nanette and her sister, Kathryn Hamer Widrig never treated me differently from the numerous other Cross cousins! Indeed, Nanette, who had served as Town Historian from the late 1930’s until her passing in 1974, never hesitated in mentoring me as a young history buff in the 1950’s and 1960’s. She had served from about 1929, as an interested aide to her close friend and fellow-worker, Ellen Corse Potter who had followed her father, F. Dudley Corse, in office as the Town Historian. (He had helped to organize the Town of Sandy Creek Centennial Celebration, published the 1925 Town History, after having gathered information on every local man who had served in World War One into a file that is still part of the Town’s History Collection.)
Nanette was generous with her time and talents, being a gifted stenographer and typist, and transcribing many, many original sources and oral histories bearing on the Towns of Sandy Creek and Boylston, all through the thirties, into the World War Two era, when paper and ink shortages forced The Sandy Creek News to cease running the “Sketches” local history column each week. However, Nanette did not stop collecting information or writing about local history. When I became engrossed in family and local history as a young adult, she was generous enough to allow me to borrow each of “Sketches” notebooks which she had created from clippings of and additions to those columns. The entire collection was well over eight hundred pages by the time that Nanette retired from the Holstein-Friesian World – Corse Press, Inc.

She could fairly dance with joy at finding some new piece of information about local history, as she proved when I first handed her an un-named photo of a dignified African-American gentleman that I found in a treasure-trove of local photos hidden in a file drawer in the “dead file” of the News early in 1971. This occurred when the News was being sold to the Journal Publishing Company of Adams, New York. Nanette took one look at the photo and let out a whoop of joy that brought other World staffers to an interior doorway of the News office.

“Color Bearer Roberts!” Nanette cried out, and I thought perhaps she would hug that album-sized portrait. She looked at the man, wearing a badge of the local G. A. R. post on his dark suit jacket, with what can only be described as a “star-spangled” gaze, for it was Henry Roberts, veteran of the 29th Connecticut Infantry, C. T., whom she could remember from the early 20th Century, as serving as flag bearer for Decoration Day parades when she was just a child! That direct identification sent me on a forty-year journey of discovery, from Sandy Creek’s history resources and records series to the National Archives, where the records of individuals serving in the Union (Northern) Colored Troops of the American Civil War, were finally alphabetized in the 1990’s. (I’m still wondering what facts Hagerstown, Maryland, might be hiding about Henry Roberts, for that is listed as his birthplace in several sources!)
I believe that anyone who ever had more than a passing acquaintance with Nanette Hamer, will attest to the fact that they never knew a cheerier soul, who always had a kind or comforting word for everyone with whom she came in contact. I have seen Nanette look rather serious or solemn when she was searching for the correct fact, or the right way to spell a word, but she greeted all those who entered the second-floor office of the Sandy Creek News in the long-gone Corse Press building, with a cheery word or that marvelous smile of recognition that was her trademark! No matter that her tall frame had been cruelly twisted by polio (Then known as Infantile Paralysis) in her teen years. Her first cousin, Kenneth Hedger, had also suffered the same deformity, and had quietly slipped into a reclusive existence, though still maintaining family friendships, such as the one Mom practiced with her Hamer and Hedger cousins.

In fact, when I was trying to identify Nanette for a relatively new employee at the Corse Press – Holstein-Friesian World offices, that person finally said “Oh, you mean the crippled lady!” I’ll have to admit that that statement set me to figuratively scratching my head, while wondering who in the “World” she was talking about. Finally, I mumbled, something like, “Yes, she works in the News Office!” and went off to recoup my mind – if possible. I had, never, in my whole thirty-some years, ever, ever thought of Nanette Hamer as being crippled. She was partially disabled, perhaps, but that Dear Lady was not ever crippled by the cruel disease that had struck randomly within so many communities. No, she did not marry and have children, but she did adopt the whole community’s history and she treated everyone around her equally, no matter what their age, property, or status. Is there a better legacy to pass on to the younger generation?

So, this is my personal tribute to one of greatest ladies I have ever known: M. Nanette Hamer! - MKP