In Chautauqua County, our favorite celebrity is Lucille Ball and our County Genealogical Society has enjoyed everything about our research into her ancestry, some hoping to prove they were related. There exists a Ball Family History that takes the family to early New England. Anna Waite of Cassadaga used many sources to fill in Lucy’s lines – four generations in and near Chautauqua County. Norman Carlson of Busti put this information into chart form and searched newspapers and added stories that made the Ball family come to life in an article published in The Chautauqua Genealogist Vol XIV no. 4. Walt and Lisa Sedlmayer of Fredonia have organized four distinct Ball families of Chautauqua County to prove their connection to our favorite redhead. One of our members, Darrell Vail just “loves Lucy” and had spent free time, including vacations, to learn more about Lucy’s family. Genealogists like to know where and when people were born, married and died. They are obsessed to learn where the remains of ancestors are resting. I can’t prove a blood relationship, but I feel a Lucy connection because my ancestors are buried in the same small cemetery with Lucy’s ancestors, the family of Cynthia Dale Ball, in East Hickory, PA.
In 1992 I had the privilege of extracting the records of the Chautauqua County Poor Farm. Because of the article by Mr Carlson, I recognized the name of Lucille Ball’s great grandfather in these records and I joined the group of those obsessed to learn more. No, it is not scandalous to find that an ancestor has spent some time at the “poor house.” In the nineteenth century, that was one of the few hospital-like institutions in the county. An individual may have had no family member that could or would care for them at home; some paid a monthly fee to be cared for. We find Lucy’s great grandfather, William Orcutt aged 34, admitted from the Town of Pomfret on April 17, 1879 because of illness. He remained for thirteen weeks. During the next three years, Mr Orcutt was re-admitted several times, sometimes accompanied by a law enforcement officer, and he died in that institution on May 18, 1882 and was buried in the cemetery on the grounds. Shortly thereafter, New York State decared it illegal to bury a veteran as a pauper. William had served in the Civil War. After much political bickering, Chautauqua County chose the Mayville cemetery as its designated burial place for indigent soldiers, and sometime around 1888 the remains of William and others were removed to this site.
Earlier, William’s young wife (Lucy’s great great grandmother) Helen Sprague Orcutt was admitted March 4, 1869 aged 23, pregnant, and accompanied by three children: William H Sprague, aged four, and twins Flora Bell and Freddie Orcutt, aged 1 year, 19 months. The record notes that William H. was “bound out” the next day to Hiram Marcy, a farmer, of Stedman. The three Orcutts stayed at the Poor House for six weeks. There is no record that Helen gave birth while there. “Bound out” usually meant that a legal document was signed committing one to indentured servitude for a time (to age 21 for males) in exchange for room and board.
Here were interesting facts for genealogists, but also, many questions for further research. Poor little William torn from his family – what became of him? We consulted the 1870 federal census taken just one year later. Oh happy day, William H. has been retrieved from bondage. William and Helen Orcutt are listed in the Town of Charlotte, not in Pomfret, and they have four children at home: William H. (now Orcutt) aged 5, three-year-old Freddie and Flora, and Henry aged one. The 1875 New York State census lists three more children. “Willie” is now ten, the twins seven, Henry five, Carrie three years eight months, Nellie one year, ten months, and Eddie three months.
On April 10, 1889, Flora Bell Orcutt married Frederick Hunt of Jamestown and their daughter, Desiree Evelyn Hunt married Henry Durrell Ball. It is this couple who became the parents of Lucille. Henry’s mother, Nellie Durell, was born in Dunkirk on Oct 9, 1856 to George Osborne and Anna Jane Jewell Durrell. Her family were devout members of the Dunkirk Methodist Church and much family history can be found in the church records. Henry’s father was a colorful character, Jasper C. Ball, whose father was Clinton Ball of Fredonia. Clinton Ball had interest in Pennsylvania oil country and owned several acres on East Main Street in Fredonia. Clinton Street in Fredonia not only marks the area where the Ball family resided but was named to honor of this great-grandfather of Lucy.
Genealogists have documented that Lucy’s father was indeed Henry Durrell Ball who died in 1914 when his famous daughter was only three. We carefully check such facts and try not be misled by data published in newspapers, even in official documents. Lucy’s paternal grandmother, Nellie Durrell Ball Dye, died at the Odd Fellows Home in Lockport on December 7, 1945 at age 89. Her obituary, published the next day in the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, states that in addition to three daughters, she was survived by one son, F. Clinton Ball of Watts Flats, the father of the film actress. Such information has caused many false limbs to be grafted on to family trees.
For years family members and genealogical researches feared they would never learn the fate or the final resting place of Lucy’s paternal grandparents, Nellie Durrell and Jasper C Ball. This couple divorced and Jasper remarried and settled in Buffalo. Researcher Anna Waite found property transfers signed by Nellie Ball in 1928 when she would have been seventy years old. Mrs Waite felt that she would not have remarried after that date. Still Darrell Vail diligently followed every clue to prove that Jasper had a second family of at least four daughters, that he died in Buffalo May 24, 1933 and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawana. Then he learned that Nellie indeed remarried on Christmas day 1929 at age 73 to Jay A Dye. This search led him to the above stated knowledge of Nellie’s death and burial at Lockport. So, is our research on Lucille Ball’s family now complete? Of course not! Four generations gives us sixteen families to research and each generation backward doubles the previous number.
Members of Clinton Ball’s family and many of the Durrell/Jewell family of Dunkirk are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Fredonia. Some are: