In memory
the Poorhouse Story

In Memory of My Great Great Grandmother Emma Warner Thorn Pinchin
(December 19, 1848 - June 13, 1909)

When I was unable to learn anything about my grandma Emma’s life before she was taken from the Washington County Poorhouse as a child, I turned my disappointment into a desire to celebrate her memory by learning & telling The Poorhouse Story.

This site is dedicated to her memory. I felt that if I could not learn of her life before she entered the poorhouse, I would at least learn as much as I could of what her life may have been like while she was there. Knowing that she had lived a very independent and productive life after her discharge, I felt it was appropriate to try to dispel the often undeserved negative image of poorhouse inmates.
I began my family history research about four years ago. The biggest mystery was my great great grandmother Emma. The family story had always been told that she was the child of a Charles Thorn of Fort Ann NY. (It was also said that she was Native American--Mohawk--but I have never been able to verify this.)
I quickly found her death certificate which gave her married name as Emma E. Pinchin. She died June 13, 1909 at the home of her daughter, my great grandmother Tucker. It gave her place of birth as West Fort Ann NY and her father’s name as Charles Thorn. (It also stated her mother’s maiden name to be Thorn which I believe to be a recording error.) Her age at the time of death was given as 60 years 5 months 25 days. I calculated this to mean she was born about December 19, 1848.
This seemed like it was going to be easy! I gleefully went to the 1850 Census -- which I knew was the first census to list all household members. In Fort Ann, New York, I found an entry for a C.M. Thorn (age 33, merchant) living in the household of a Daniel & Hanna Shepherd. No household was listed for any Charles Thorn.
I fast-forwarded to the 1855 state census for Fort Ann. The household of Charles (age 37) & Eunice Thorn showed two children [Louis(e) Jerusha – age 3 and Ma(r)y Eunice – age 2] and two servants. No child named Emma! No child near 7 years of age!
Another fast-forward to the 1860 census found Charles & Eunice with two children [Lois E. – age 9 and Charles H. – age 1] with an Emma Warner age 11 (no relationship to the household stated) and one farm laborer in the household. Emma WARNER! Where did that name come from? And why was no relationship given?
That remained a puzzle for another year. Then, sitting in the home of the Town Historian of Fort Ann -- Virginia Parrott, surrounded by the gazillions of records and books she has at her house she suddenly bolted up and started jumping up and down shrieking "This is it! This is it!"
Imagine my surprise when I realized that the book she was waving in her hand was Washington County NY Poor House Accounts, edited by Laura Penny Hulslander!!!! Below is what we found on page 7 under the heading: "Children Taken From the Poor House on Trial."
I know. That is spelled WARREN. So I found the page with that entry in the original poorhouse records. Below is what it looks like.
In the original, the spelling looks much more like WARNER. So while the transcriber, Laura, mistook the fourth letter to be R and the last letter to be N and transcribed it as WARREN, examination of the original, together with examination of the census page (of which I do not have a copy to show here) led us to conclude that the name was Warner rather than Warren. (Whewwww!) [There's that old lesson here: try to get back to the originals, but bless the transcribers who gave us the opportunity to discover what to go looking for!]
I then practically took up residence in the Washington County Historian’s Office where I poured over their amazingly comprehensive and intact poorhouse records. I was unable to find any other reference to Emma. But I did decide to compile a history of that poorhouse. And because writing can be a rather lonely pursuit, I decided to share some of my research with that community of folks who pursue their own search for their roots. That’s how I came to start The Poorhouse Story website!
By the way, I have never – yet! -- been able to find out where Emma came from and how she came to be in the poorhouse when she was only about 7 years old. It was common at that time for children sent to the poorhouse to be "bound out" to families. Adoption was not commonly practiced then. But for the rest of her life, Emma listed Charles Thorn as her father on all records.
Needless to say – I would be delighted if any reader out there came up with some information about her! She was not listed in the poorhouse on the 1855 state census. Somewhere on the 1850 census, somewhere in Washington county NY,  there is very likely a family with a toddler named Emma Warner.
PS: The little boy, Charles Thorn, mentioned above in the 1860 census, appears to have been buried in the cemetery of that same poorhouse on 4/9/1933 at the age of 73 with a tombstone pictured on another of our web pages. (But that is another chapter of the story.)

Thanks for listening,

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