Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I love unusual names!

One of the joys of genealogical research is discovering that your line includes some unusual surnames. It's a real challenge trying to do research on a name like "Johnson," but occasionally one taps into a line in America whose surname is so unusual that almost anybody in America who has that surname is likely a descendant of a common ancestor. Probably my most unusual family name is "Alfont"--my paternal grandmother's paternal grandmother was Mary Alfont. As I've researched this unusual name, it has pretty much been true that virtually anyone named "Alfont" or "Alfonte" are descendants of Mary's father, William Alfont. (The final "e" shows up in some branches, but most of them seem to omit it.) William Alfont settled in Madison co. IN in the 1830s, and there was a little village named for him. Alfont, IN doesn't really exist as much more than a street anymore, though it made the news as recently as 1924 when there was a train accident there. But here's what I've learned about William Alfont, my 3rd-great-grandfather, and his background:

Summary on William Alfont
            William Alfont, my third-great-grandfather, is said to have been the son of John Alfont. Family tradition passed along to me by Harold Alfont says of John that he “was born in an old castle in France, but when he was but a boy, he ran away from home and became a sailor. He visited countries in all parts of the world, and while he was in Australia, he met Frances Davis, who later became his wife . . . [They] had one child, William. The mother died soon after the birth of the son. John never remarried. He made his home in Philadelphia where he lived until his death in 1833.” Other family members have expressed the belief that John Alfont was of Walloon descent. (The Walloons were a French-speaking people who lived in what is today Belgium.)
            The following records appear to belong to John:
(1)           Cecil co. MD records the marriage of John Alfond and Mary Davey on 18 Jan. 1798 by [Jeremiah] Cosden, an Anglican clergyman who served St. Augustine and North Sassafras parish 1794-1801. It is unclear whether this record shows that Cosden actually performed the marriage, or was simply the one who officially recorded it; in this period in Maryland apparently the local Anglican clergyman had the responsibility of officially recording marriages. This record is not a church record, but a record of marriages in Cecil co. The parish, however, was in the southern part of Cecil co., near Chesapeake City. The record is found in a DAR compilation, and it places a question mark after “Davey.” I have inspected the original record at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, and it quite clearly says “Davey”; perhaps the question mark reflects the transcriber’s suspicion that this may have been an error, since the name Davey doesn’t seem to appear elsewhere in Cecil co. records during this period while the name “Davis” is relatively common.
(2)           John Alfont appears in the 1800 census of Cecil co. MD (p. 28), showing him between ages of 26 and 45 (thus b. ca. 1754/1774). A woman apparently his wife is listed, age 16/26 (b. ca. 1773/1784), as well as a young boy under 10. William Alfont’s tombstone gives his birthdate as 26 Mar. 1799—so this boy in the census is likely he. There is also an older woman listed, over 45 (b. before 1755).
(3)           A transcription of the baptismal register of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which was published in 1908 in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, records the baptism of William Alfont on 3 Nov. 1805, “born in Maryland, Mar. 22, 1799, of John Alfont and his wife Mary Davis, Catholics; sponsors—James and Margaret Enue [Eneu?].” This is certainly the same couple married in Cecil co. in 1798, and the child is certainly our William Alfont (despite the four day discrepancy in his birth date).
No further public records of John Alfont have been found (though there is a John Alphin in the 1810 census for Fredericksville, Albemarle co. VA, over 45, wife same age, a boy 10-16, and a young woman 16-26). The name itself is quite unusual, and it is also worth noting that the records of First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Philadelphia include reference to a Rebecca Allefont who died 13 July 1806, aged 10 months 3 weeks. No further information is given.
            William Alfont is said to have married Elizabeth Freeburn in Philadelphia about 1818. No record of this marriage has been found. Philadelphia co. did not keep records that early, but various church registers are extant, and no marriage has been found for this couple.
William appears in the 1820 census of Philadelphia, in Blockley twp. His age is listed as 16-26, with a wife in the same age group (i.e., b. ca. 1793-1804), and one son under 10.
The Franklin Gazette in Philadelphia published a “List of letters remaining in the Philadelphia Post-Office October 15, 1820” on 17 Oct 1820 and 19 Oct 1820, and on the list is Wm. Alfont.
Land records for Philadelphia co. show that William Alfont, carpenter, was sold a lot on the south side of James St., village of Hamilton, Blakeley twp., by Silas Evans for $125 on 21 Jan. 1826. A second deed is recorded in which Thomas Davis and Hester/Esther his wife sold William Alfont, sawyer, a lot in the same village and township on the south side of Social Street, 14 July 1830. This second transaction was actually the north half of four different lots (cost $187.50); the south half of the same lots conveyed at the same time to Philip Hardin (about whom more below).
William appears on p. 34 of the 1830 census of Blockley twp., age 30/40, wife age 20/30,), and three children, a boy 10/15, a boy 5/10, and a girl under 5. There is also an older man in the household (age 50/60). This may be William’s father, or, perhaps more likely, Elizabeth’s father, Robert Freeburn; there is a definite statement in a biographical sketch of her nephew that Robert Freeburn lived in Philadelphia with Elizabeth and her family in his old age.
A history of Madison co. IN contains a sketch of one Philip Hardin, who, it is said, was married to Mary Alfonte. The Hardin family was obviously connected to the Alfont family, but; it seems clear that Philip Hardin’s wife was Mary Freeburn, a sister to Elizabeth Freeburn rather than to William Alfont.
A newspaper biography of Elizabeth (Freeburn) Alfont states that the family came to Indiana in the fall of 1834. This is confirmed by land transactions in Philadelphia at that time. Alfont conveyed the land originally purchased from Thomas Davis to Philip Hardin (which land adjoined Hardin’s own property) for $400 on 21 Apr. 1834; he conveyed his other property on James St. to Lucretia Larazin on 26 Aug. 1834 for $600. The latter deed mentions that this property included a two story “message or tenement.” These deeds suggest that Alfont had done well with his real estate investment in Philadelphia co., and that he left the county soon after the latter conveyance was made. Note that this is just a year after the supposed date of John Alfont’s death.
William then purchased land in Madison co. IN in Oct. 1834 (90 acres) and Aug. 1835 (78 acres) from Alexander Jordon and Conrod Crosley respectively. The earlier deed refers to him as “William Alfont of Philadelphia.” From this time on, William and Elizabeth appear consistently in Madison co. IN.

No comments:

Post a Comment