The Long and Arduous Search for Jane Harriet Martling Tagg, Part I

The wife of James Tagg, my great-great-great grandfather, was a family mystery. We knew nothing of her origins. We basically knew nothing about her. Little did I know that it would be her children that would lead me to her Methodist minister grandfather and his huge New Jersey family; her brother, who lost an arm at the battle of Gettysburg; her sister, who’s husband was murdered over access to a well spring in Missouri; and a mayor of New York City.

The search began nearly 15 years ago when I received my first family tree. It was sent to my father by one of his uncles. My great uncle and other distant relatives had discovered that the wife of James Tagg, son of the progenitor of our Taggs here in America, was named Loretta Martlin. For starters, Loretta Martlin does not exist but the Martling family does.

Martling, Not Martlin – Staten Island, Not Westchester

Loretta Martlin was supposedly born in White Plains in 1835 to E. or C. Martlin and Loretta Clark. I searched and searched and searched for Loretta and found nothing. Eventually, I learned searching backwards would be more fruitful. At the time, I was new to genealogical research (this was about 1999). I searched in the 1880 Census and found the Taggs. Her name was not Loretta. It was Jane H. Tagg and she was born in New York. Her father was born on Staten Island and her mother in New Jersey.

Some time went by before I tried searching for her family, only to say that she was one of my earliest genealogical challenges. Suffice it to say, I was becoming perturbed by the absence of records acknowledging her existence. Once I became familiar with the NYC Archives (years later), I was able to verify her full name, death and burial place. She was Jane Harriet Tagg, born about 1840 and died 24 June 1886, at age 46. Nevertheless, her family history still eluded me.

Time and time again I revisited the 1880 Census, knowing that her parents nativity was speculative at best. Suddenly it dawned on me that Jane’s children would be the keys to this puzzle. Seven kids were in the Taggs Heyward St home in Brooklyn. (The Taggs always lived a stone’s throw away from the docks. When they moved to Brooklyn in 1873, their home was a few blocks from the Navy Yard.) The oldest child was James Henry Tagg, my great-great grandfather. After James Henry came Jane, Fredrick, Sophronia, Arthur, Wesley and Florence. The marriage records of the four children who survived childhood and married (James Henry, Jane, Fredrick and Sophronia) all said virtually the same thing. Their mother’s name was listed as either Jane or Jennie Martling.

The nine year gap between Fredrick and Sophronia left me convinced more children had lived and died between census enumerations. By the end of my search in Brooklyn’s cemeteries, I discovered more of James and Jane’s children. Thirteen in total! So, in addition to the original seven Tagg children, I added six more: Elizabeth, Emma, Anna, Jacob, Fannie and Ada. The name that caught my interest, however, was obviously different from the others: Sophronia.

Her full name, as her marriage record stated, was Sophronia Clark Tagg (married Frederick Resseguie). Why would a family with names like James and Jane use such an unusual name? I was able to track down a Sophronia of interest and was stunned to find a very relevant link. The Sophronia I found was the daughter of Jacob Aaron Westervelt, once Mayor of New York. I would have dismissed it immediately but for the fact that James Henry Tagg named his only son, LeRoy Westervelt Tagg (my great-grandfather) and one of Jane’s deceased children was named Jacob.

Jacob Aaron Westervelt, 1870s (Wikipedia)

The Westervelts

Sophronia Westervelt married a man named George Clark. Hmmm, the plot thickens given her middle name. When provided an index of deaths from the year preceding the 1870 Census, I discovered a Tagg child that was born and died between census enumerations. The young child’s name was Jacob Aaron Tagg! It was apparent that Mayor Westervelt and Jane Martling Tagg had a connection.

My research then pivoted to Jacob Aaron Westervelt. Westervelt’s business was shipbuilding. He learned the trade from master shipbuilder Christian Bergh. He eventually went into business with another Bergh apprentice, Robert Carnley. Mr. Westervelt was also an Alderman for Manhattan’s 13th Ward, where the Tagg family lived. Furthermore, James Tagg was a ship joiner (although always enumerated in censuses as ‘sash blind maker’). The mystery was slowly unraveling.

But what of the Westervelt link? Other than Sophronia and Jacob, none of the other names struck me as relevant. I re-examined Jane’s descendant’s tree, looking to her grandchildren next. One of them, Arthur Thompson Winans, a son of her oldest daughter, Jane Tagg Winans, was relevant because he shared his middle name with Westervelt’s wife, Eliza M. Thompson. (His name also explained Jane’s son’s, Arthur T. Tagg, middle initial.)

Other genealogists had already established Eliza Thompson Westervelt’s father was Rev. Ralph Thompson from Monmouth County, NJ. How did we get from Monmouth County to Manhattan? What geographical location sits between them? Staten Island! And what name was prominent on Staten Island for generations that there is a pond and street still named for the family? Yep… Martling. More still, Ralph Thompson was a Methodist preacher who, like most Methodist clergy after the Revolution, traveled on circuits to various communities preaching the Gospel. No doubt, Staten Island was on his route because his wife, Anne Sleight, was from Staten Island!

Part II… Jane’s Siblings, her Parents and Where Do I Go From Here?

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