A Starting Point

Preface family tree

“I am Leoria Carolyn Meeker Wilbur and my mother was Leoria Carolyn Wilbur Meeker”. A sly smile accompanied my grandmother’s challenge to her young listeners. Like all things in a child’s life, names were simple. You had a father, mother and children and in our family, we were all Barbers. Even she was one of us, Leoria Carolyn Meeker Wilbur Barber.

She explained how my great-great-grandfather, Stephen Decatur Wilbur, who with his wife Lovina Tripp, adopted their granddaughter, my grandmother Leoria Carolyn. Her mother, also Leoria Carolyn, died from eclampsia the day she was born.  S. D. Wilbur the grandfather is now the father as Leoria Carolyn the second legally becomes his daughter.

The twenty-two year old great-grandmother, who her daughter never knew, haunted me.  It was the first article I found with "little Emily Barber", the flower girl at my great-grandparents' wedding, the marriage of the young woman who so soon died that began this journey.  I became obsessed with the flower girl, a Barber, who would be a contemporary of my grandmother, who would become a Barber by marriage.  Emily Lenora Barber (Bigelow) is my first cousin three times removed the daughter of Carolyn Tripp and Josiah Barber. Carolyn Tripp (Barber) is the much younger sister of my second great grandmother mentioned above, Lovina Tripp Wilbur.  I still wanted to know more my grandmother’s mother, Leoria.

Little information survives about the first Leoria, however, I came across article after article about her father, Stephen Wilbur. One of the first things found is a photo of him archived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In 1865, Reed Brockway Bontecou photographed advances in surgical procedures, a result of too much practice during war times. I saw that picture of Stephen D. Wilbur's Civil War wound with its shocking clarity showing the right arm missing from above the elbow.

The short stories my grandmother told us about her adoptive parents matched what I found. By the time she was part of the family, Stephen was the attendance officer so she would not dare skip school. He died at home after a fall from a ladder while picking fruit.

A story that began with a quest to know my second great grandmother, Leoria, led me to Emily Barber, a relative with the same last name as me, but developed into a story about a Civil War veteran. Stephen Decatur Wilbur, a dynamic man who left farming due to his disability, went on to have a lasting impact on the education and religious communities in southern New York State.