Mary Polly Brown on the 1850 census

Mary "Polly" Brown was born November 12, 1838, reportedly in Genoa, Cayuga County, New York. Her name varied on records, sometimes being written Polly and at least once it was written Sarah, but she usually went by Mary. You can see the variations in my previous posts, where I shared the census records she was found on from 1855 to 1892, and from 1900 to 1915.


Here in this embroidered "Family Record", hand made by Mary Polly Brown herself, she stitched her own name as "M . LEONARD . BORN . NOV. 12, 1838". (From Dryer Family Photos).

Family Record by Mary Polly Brown Leonard

Mary Polly Brown's father was said to have been Eugene Edwin Brown and her mother, Lydia King. (Documentation containing her parents' names was shared in my previous post).


In this post I'll lay out the only clues I've found which may reveal Mary Polly Brown's whereabouts in 1850, when she was a young girl. If she was born Nov. 12, 1838, as recorded in the Family Record, she would have been 11 years old and would have turned 12 in November of 1850.


Since she was reportedly born in Genoa and she also lived there at the age of 17 as a newlywed with Charles and a newborn baby, Joseph, she may have been in the same small town of 2,500 people when the census was taken in 1850.


Sure enough, a search of the 1850 census does reveal a girl named Polly Brown living in Genoa, but her age was given as 12 and she was the only Brown in the home belonging to Peter and Lydia Shaver.


The census in Genoa was taken on October 1st, a month before Mary Polly Brown's birthday, so if this was her, whoever gave the information to the census taker may have estimated her age, or perhaps she was really born in 1839, which is a possibility. It is interesting to note that on the 1900 census, "Nov 1839" was given as her birth month and year. Alternatively, this may not have been our Mary Polly Brown at all.

Peter and Lydia Shaver (Shaffer/Shafer) report being born in Pennsylvania. They appear to have had two children in the home in 1850, Philip and Sally A. Shafer. By 1855, Sally was married to George Bower. Philip also married and had at least three children: William Shaffer, Edgar Shaffer, and Emma (Shaffer) Newman, all named in Phillip's will dated 1899. No will has been found for Peter or Lydia.


Mary was not found in the Shaffer household in 1855, which supports the idea that this Polly Brown was our Mary Polly Brown because we know ours married Charles Russell Leonard about 1854 and when the census was taken in 1855, they had their own home in Genoa, as mentioned previously.


Lydia Shaffer died on January 19, 1888 and is buried in Genoa Rural Cemetery (Findagrave). Whereas I had hoped this Lydia was Polly's mother, Lydia King, others claim this was Lydia Fetterman and so, for now, we'll have to assume the Shafers were not family and simply took Polly in, perhaps as a foster child, or perhaps as a servant, which wasn't uncommon for young people in those times. A copy of Lydia's death certificate should confirm her identity more definitively, however. (Certificate #2229 "Lydia Shaffer"). If you have a copy, please share!

In my next post, I'll share what I've found in trying to locate Mary and her parents on the 1840 census. Stay tuned!


Click here to learn more about Mary Polly Brown.


Click here to learn more about the Leonard family.

#marypollybrown #brown #leonard


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