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My Family History by Irene Courtenay (1921-2016)

filed with Dominick Gerald Courtenay
From - Nebraska State Historical Society


The purpose of this paper is to bring out the highlights in the Courtenay family of the more recent generations as well as to trace their history, their coming to America and the subsequent events related to their lives.

In order to do this it would be best to give a small introduction to give a background to the later generations.

Midway in the history of the Courtenay family Athen founded town of Courtenay 53 miles south of Paris and took the surname of Courtenay (1000 A.D.) Thus the name was established. Athen's descendants in France went to the Crusades. Reginald de Courtenay, one of the leaders arranged the marriage of his cousin Henry the II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine and escorted her to England where he remained to establish the English house of Courtenay.

In the early part of the nineteenth century my great grandfather and his three brothers came to New York City. The two younger brothers went boating one day on the Hudson, a sudden squall came up and capsized the boat. They were both drowned. The third brother had never married, this was my great grandfather's twin, so like him their parents could not tell them apart. Since the three brothers died unmarried my mother, brothers and I are the sole representatives of that line of the Courtenays.

However, my great grandfather met and married Catharine Ash of Mayflower ancestry. My grandfather was born in New York City but due to his father's early death from tuberculosis his mother beared that life is what was then considered a big city (59,000) might cause her two sons to develop the same disease so she sent them to friends in Illinois where they could grow up on a farm in the great open spaces. When my grandfather finished high school he taught a district school for two years, then attended Beloit College in Wisconsin and later carried on the family tradition by studying law in the office of Charles E. Fuller, congressman from the district. After he was admitted to the bar he practiced law successfully in Chicago for a year but decided to take Horace Greeley's advice & go west. He and friend, a photographer, also of an adventurous turn bought a house and wagon and a stock of rations and dry goods, drove westward through Illinois, Iowa and into Nebraska disposing of their wares as they drove along. Arriving in Lincoln the town appealed to them, inquiries confirmed this favorable opinion, the horse and wagon were sold and both young men, my grandfather was then 23, remained. This was in the year 1877, Lincoln was then a blooming town of about 4,500! The town then had the hopes of some day reaching the magnificent proportion of 10,000.

One of the clients of the lawyer into whose office my grandfather went invited him to his home to spend the evening. My grandfather, fancying that the daughter of the house was a middle aged spinster, put his pipe in his pocket ment, prepared to spend a quiet evening smoking. Imagine his surprise when the daughter proved to be an 18 years old beauty. My grandfather tactfully concealed the pipe; they were married a few months later.

My grandmother's father was also of English descent (in fact my entire ancestry except for one Knickerbocker line is all English for the last 500 years). He was born in Northamptonshire where his family had lived for generations, some were friends and neighbors of George Washington's ancestors and an old will of one Henry Atkins records a legacy to one of the Washingtons.

His father was the “village blacksmith”, only it was on a larger scale as he employed 10 men, a large establishment for a hundred and twenty-five years ago. When my great grandfather completed his apprenticeship (at the age of 14, he had commenced it) at the end of seven years to a harness maker and saddler (we now have his apprenticeship papers illuminated and sealed on velum carefully put away) he resolved to sink his fortune in the new world.

His diary describes his six weeks trip to New York in a sailing vessel. His account of the trip in 1845 is very interesting. One surprise was that only 3 meals a day were eaten in this country, five being the custom in England. Describing Albany he writes, “Albany is a very hansome city I think superior to New York. The buildings are chiefly brick painted red and painted white. There are many very fine public and private buildings, the city hall is a very spacious stone building imitating marble. There are some fine shops and wide streets with trees regularly planted on either side along the foot pavement which is very convenient to passengers in the summer. There are 12 saddle shops, I went in 2 of the principle ones and the Boss, for that is the name by which they call their masters here was apparently a very intelligent man, he took great pains in shewing me his stock in trade and in asking me various Questions. His is the manner of Yankees generally, being very inquisitive. He took me to be a Dutchman.

There are only two trains leave Albany for Rochester daily one at 8 in the morning and one at 8 in the evening the emigrants train. Travelling by railroad in America is not to equaled to travelling in England. I were shook almost as bad as being in a waggon. “

Some of my grandfather's friends were bound for Canada, he accompanied them up the Hudson and across New York to St.Thomas on the shore of Lake Erie. In a neighboring town he found the opening he sought and in a new world of primeval forrests, wild animals, abundant fruits & unusual beauty he settled down to live.

In the little town was an attractive young woman of American parentage; her ancestors had likewise came from England, with Governor Endicott in 1628. A brief stay in Salem, exploration of Massachusetts Bay Colony at official behest the founding of Charlestown, Massachusetts a trip to Rhode Island to aid in the founding of that commonwealth etc marked their early years.

All of them who could fought for the colonies in the Revolution, either as officers or privates. After the war Major Joshua and his son Frederick, thinking that peace was lasting migrated with some of their neighbors to the Shores of Lake Lancing Canada. Frederick's daughter was the young woman and she married my great grandfather.

In the meantime my great grandfather's brother and sister had come from England to Cincinnati, the brother, an Oxford man and a barrister in London decided to go west to the land of new found gold. A party with oxteams drove overland bound for California, near Farrisburg they were attacked by redskins, a circle of wagons was quickly formed and the Indians were finally driven off. Arriving in Denver, then a town of 200, he decided to stay, became territorial treasurer of Colorado. Later my great great uncle west to Salt Lake where he knew Brigham Young and at length, after being the same year on the way he arrived in California.

My great grandfather stopped in Cincinnati to see his sister and was urged by her friends to stop in Lincoln to visit friends they had known in England, Mr. and Mrs. Luke Lavender. He did so and was so much taken with the town that he returned to Canada instead of going on to California, sold his business moved to Lincoln, built a home for his daughter and brought her here in 1876.