Lawrence Mania!

Egad, I’m up to my eyeballs in pedigrees! Yes folks, I’ve gone completely over the edge, immersed in a world of Lawrences. I’m obsessed, addicted, gone ga-ga— I need to be rescued and brought back to the land of the living.

Truth be told, I never thought too much about the Lawrences. I mean for me it all began with my great-grandfather Arthur Sylvester Somers, who was an influential New Yorker/Brooklynite, as was evidenced by the many news clippings and pictures. But I lost sight of the fact that my great-grandmother was Virgina Augusta Lawrence, which makes me equally a Lawrence! Sadly, there were no pictures, stories, or family knowledge of her to bring her to life.

The most I knew of the Lawrences was that my father had been great pals with his cousin Buddy (Gerard) Lawrence, when growing up. Buddy was the son of Irving Lawrence, and the grandson of Virginia’s brother, Dr. Andrew Wilson Lawrence. Then there was the story about another brother of Virginia’s, Hiram vanderVoort Lawrence, who was living at Somerset (the Big House) in Monterey, Mass. for reasons not entirely clear, but possibly to escape a wife or an ex-wife. Uncle Hi was in charge of tending the chickens and the one cow. A pharmacist by trade, he was probably becoming bored in the tiny village, and was engaged in an experiment to produce waterglass eggs. By a chemical process, eggs could be kept for months without spoilage. When great-grandpa Somers found out that he had been eating preserved eggs he hit the roof, and decreed that he would have only fresh eggs for breakfast thereafter!

This was about all I knew until I made the acquaintance of a couple of Lawrence relatives, both named Andrew Wilson Lawrence, one living on Long Island and one living right next door to me here in Manhattan. We share a great-great grandfather, Andrew Wilson Lawrence (b.1836), which makes us third cousins. Andrew’s daughter Virgina married Arthur Sylvester Somers and produced our line, while her brother Enoch Pink Lawrence headed up their line.

Suddenly I’m awash in a world of crusades, knights, kings, castles, Revolution fervor, freedom of speech and religion issues, community activism, pioneering, politics, wealth! Sweeping landscapes, Indian attacks! The Battle of Bunker Hill! And babies, babies, babies! What an exciting, adventurous, dangerous and romantic world it was! I’m learning that the illustrious Lawrences played influential roles in the earliest beginnings of our country, from its cradle in the Boston/Groton area to the settlements of Niew Amsterdam/New York, Long Island and Eastchester/Westchester.

But there are still mysteries to be unraveled: like two different pedigrees, both emanating from Lancashire, England and both with missing links, with one tracing back to the Puritans of New England, and the other to the Quakers of Eastchester and Long Island. So which is the right one? Or are they both right? Or both wrong? Thus I became obsessed with trying to untangle roots and resolve discrepancies. I started with the genealogy drawn up by a lady named Helen Lawrence years ago, that attempts to tie the family into both of the above-mentioned pedigrees. So who was Helen? Helen was married to Dr. Andrew Wilson Lawrence III of Seacliff NY, and more on her in the future. Apparently the document she drew up was based on initial work done by Irving Lawrence (father of Buddy), according to Aunt Nancy. Uncle Ed Somers and his wife, Aunt Nancy, who have done amazing family research, had communicated with Helen Lawrence years ago, and in fact visited her on Long Island once, when she served them tea in hand painted teacups! Helen said she loved the Lawrence family and loved listening to all their stories. Could it be that the famous ‘Somers humor’ came from the Lawrence side? And I’ve also been wondering if the good looks of the Somers males might have come from the Lawrence side as well. We’d need more pictures to verify that. Ed and Nancy also corresponded with Annie Idalene, daughter of Annie Idalene Lawrence, who was one of Virginia’s sisters.

One of the pedigrees ties the Lawrences directly back to Enoch Lawrence (b. 1648) of Boston and the Lawrences of Groton, Mass, and Plainfield/Canaan, Conn. and ultimately back to the Lawrences of Ashton Hall in Lancashire, England. The other one suggests a tie-in to the three brothers – Thomas, William and John Lawrence – who emigrated to Flushing Queens and Long Island from St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England and constituted what is entitled the “Eastchester Pedigree”, also called “The Lawrences of Lancashire”, and going as far back as the 15th century to Edmund Lawrence Born: Abt. 1484 Place: Withington, Gloucester, England.

And so it was that with ancestry searches, forums, maps, books and hunches, I became completely submerged in Lawrences. They’re a rather large group, spread out all over, as opposed to the Somers clan, which is comparatively easy to get a handle on over there in their little corner of Brooklyn. Of course Somers has its own mysteries. I’ve been in touch with a list administrator for whose wife comes from a Somers line that originates across the river from here in Jersey City, and he has been trying for quite a while to tie our two lines together, believing that the “missing link” could be our Charles Somers (who himself went missing). But that’s another story for another day. Today it’s all about the Lawrences! Making up for lost time…

Recent discoveries include Lawrence Triangle in front of Flushing Hospital Medical Center, which honors General George J. Lawrence, Jr. (1881-1949), a doctor, soldier, banker and athlete. A very accomplished man, he was the great-grandfather of both Andrews. We will soon have some pictures of him, including a very special one (hopefully) of George and his brother Andrew (who also went on to become a doctor), with their cousin Andrew Lawrence Somers — All three served together on General Pershing’s Staff in World War I. Both Lawrence brothers were wounded in the war. Their cousin Andrew went on to flying, and after the war became a United States Congressman. Dr George Lawrence, who became General George Lawrence, was Army Surgeon for the US Army in WWI. After the war he became head of the New York Medical Association as well as Commanding General of the The 42nd Infantry Division (Rainbow), New York Army National Guard. Here is a picture of Brigadier General George Lawrence at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. The park in front of Flushing Hospital in Queens is also called General Lawrence Blvd. in his memory.

Lawrence Triangle

St. Andrew’s Golf Club is located on the old Lawrence estate in Eastchester, NY. From The New York Times, November 24, 1895: Apart from the beauty of the clubhouse, The Lawrence farm, which will soon be converted into the finest golf course in this country, is a particularly interesting place. It consists of 155 acres, and has been in the possession of the Lawrence family for nearly 175 years, The old house is still in excellent condition, and looks eminently fitted to weather the storms of several score more winters. Unless torn down to make way for something more modern, this unpretentious but very interesting old home will remain as an historic landmark for a long time to come. The golfers have no intention of leveling it to the ground, as the site of their new clubhouse is quite a distance back of it, and, besides it is all the more interesting to have something of pre-Revolutionary days standing on the grounds.

When I look at a map I see that there is a direct line running east as the crow flies from my childhood home in Rockleigh, NJ across the Hudson River, to St. Andrew’s Golf Club. Who knew? I always felt lucky to have lived in the National Historic District of Rockleigh. But it turns out that wasn’t the half of it. I had family history so close, and yet so far away (as I knew nothing of it). So I’ve been enjoying playing catch-up with the help of Google books and maps.

The Lawrence Cemetery is an historic landmark, but there are some other cemeteries as well, hidden away in Queens. Then there is The Graveyard at Flushing Meeting House where many Quakers were buried. the web page says the following: “A number of families prominent in Long Island history have plots here, including the Hicks, Farrington and Lawrence families.”

There are also Lawrences buried in the Brooklyn Cemeteries of Greenwood and Holy Cross (for the Catholics). The Lawrences were Quakers, some of whom emigrated here for religious reasons, having left England for Holland before coming to America. But some later became Episcopalian and Roman Catholic through marriage. And if you follow the Boston trail, some were even Puritans! Now this begins to get interesting, as the Puritans detested and persecuted the Quakers in Boston.

I’ve always felt Irish to the core, and couldn’t understand my father’s yen for “things English”, which used to be a standing joke in our family. I understand it better now. While he didn’t have access to the materials I have at my disposal, my father had an innate grasp of his family’s history (maybe he heard stories when he was growing up). You say you like Britcoms? Well my father (Arthur S. Somers II) was gifted with the finest sense of humor the world has ever known, and he was loved for it. Could it be that it came from— Merrie England? Of course never forget that our English forebears were a special breed of Brits, being among those who left because they felt suffocated by restrictions on their freedom.

More to come, as I get it all sorted out…

3 Responses so far.

  1. family member says:
    This is a great article. Thanks so much for all your hard work!
  2. Frank McCormack says:
    My mother, Rie Gorman was a granddaughter of Andrew Wilson Lawrence. She often spoke of her Uncle Arthur and Aunt Virginia, although I was too young to know them. I have a copy of a Lawrence genealogy which she said was prepared by her Uncle Ivy (Irving Lawrence) about 1932. Now my Lawrence family database lists over 1200 descendents of Enoch Lawrence(b 1806) & Ellen Vanderwart
  3. Barblangeway says:
    Hi, my name is barbara, granddaughter of the helen lawrence that you refer to in your article. Some of my sisters and I have decided to pick up where grandma left off. Can I tell me if you ever got the photos you were looking for, and if the family history was ever published?