How to add a posting below . . .

To add a new posting, send an email to me at with a comment, question, story, photo, observation, etc. It will be posted below, shortly after the email is received. To comment on an existing posting, click on the "comments" command below the posting and type your comment. Your comment will show up immediately.   Pete Stemmer

Friday, June 29, 2012

Who is Harrison Allen?

I love to read old newspapers from the late 1800's into the early 1900's. It's one of my favorite things to do on the net. I really get a hoot out of some of the old ads, especially those hawking patent medicines. Back then they seemed to have a self cure for everything. Who needed doctors or dentists?

I don't know if the Lloyd Manufacturing Company's cocaine toothache drops cured your toothache or got you so high that you didn't notice the pain. Either way, I guess it was a success.

While reading old medicine ads in upstate New York newspapers, I was surprised to find mention of a New Gretna resident in a 1910 Syracuse newspaper. After all, Syracuse is quite a distance from New Gretna, especially in an era when automobiles were in their infancy and most people didn't venture too far from home. In those days, going from New Gretna to Egg Harbor or Atlantic City was considered a major trip.

But, here with have it. It seems that a Harrison H. Allen from New Gretna, N.J. had an acne problem that was cured by Poslam Pimple Cream, and he was not shy in recommending the product.  

I wonder how Harrison's name came to be chosen for the ad and whether he was paid for his testimonial. Or, was Harrison Allen a fictitious name made up by a company whose scruples in selling their product left much to be desired? However, if that's the case, why chose tiny, unknown New Gretna as his residence? Surely, mention of a larger, well known town or city would sell more pimple cream. 

The name, Harrison Allen didn't ring a bell with me. I got to wondering, if the ad was true, just who this Harrison was and how he fit into the New Gretna Allen families. Was he a short Allen or a Tall Allen, who were his parents, and where in New Gretna did he live?

Since I've been working on a genealogy of the New Gretna Allen families with my history buddy, Shirley Whealton, I figured that it wouldn't take long to track down Harrison Allen's pedigree. After all, I've got family records of hundreds of New Gretna Allens from Robert Allen, who was the first Allen to settle in Bass River in the early 1700's, to the present. Finding Harrison should be a piece of cake.

How wrong I was! I couldn't find mention of a Harrison Allen anywhere in my notes. I turned to the 1910 census. Since the ad appeared in November, 1910, surely Harrison would be listed. Wrong, again! There were 57 Allen's listed as living in Bass River in the 1910 census, but nary a Harrison. There were; however, two Harry Allens. Perhaps, one was our Harrison whose name had been shortened by the census taker to the more familiar Harry. 

The first Harry Allen was single, 20 years old, and lived with his parents, John L. and Sarah F. Allen on West Greenbush Road.

The second Harry Allen was also single, 21 years old, a head of a household with no family listed, and resided on East Main Road which would have been the present day Route 9.

There was no information in the 1910 census to a conclude that one of the two Harrys might be our Harrison, so my next step was to go to the 1920 census to look for a Harrison. If not one of the Harrys, he may have been missed in the 1910 census and perhaps appeared in the next census 10 years later.

Finally, I hit pay dirt! The 1920 Bass River census lists a Harrison Allen with his wife, Rose, and Virginia, a 4 year old daughter. It's not enough information to tie the family in with a New Gretna branch of the Allen family, but it does confirm that Harrison did live in New Gretna as stated in the ad.

The census doesn't list the street or neighborhood in which the Harrison family resided; however, a review of Harrison's neighbors listed on the same census page gives us a clue. Five Corlis households are also listed. There is only one place in Bass River Township where you would find a concentration of Corlis homes. That would be Sym Place in the far western area of Bass River where a small, isolated community grew up around a cranberry plantation.

Postcard from Sym Place

A visit to provided more evidence that Harrison was indeed a New Gretna resident as stated in the medicine ad. I was able to find a 1917 World War I Draft Registration Card for a Harrison Allen from New Gretna. It lists him as a Bayman with a wife and 2 year old child, information that agrees with the 1920 census data. Unfortunately, it doesn't list his parents which would be valuable information in connecting him to a New Gretna Allen family.

So, after our serendipitous journey from a Syracuse, New York newspaper ad, through the 1910 and 1920 Bass River Township census, and ending with a World War I Draft Registration Card, we have verified that Harrison Allen was, indeed, a resident of New Gretna as the pimple cream ad stated. My faith in truth in advertising has been restored!

However, while I now know that the Harrison Allen family resided in New Gretna, I still don't know how they fit into the New Gretna Allen families. There are still some outstanding questions to be answered. Was Harrison a short Allen or a tall Allen? Who were his parents? Was he one of the Harrys listed in the 1910 census? 

Perhaps, there is an Allen out in the Blog-O-Sphere who remembers hearing about an ancestor with an acne problem and can answer some of these questions. I sure could use some help!

Pete S

PS- For information concerning the short and tall Allens of New Gretna, please CLICK HERE.


  1. ok, I've found the WWI Draft Registration, the 1920 Census, and looked in a few other places and come up with nothing. I note that his wife was born in Florida from the census, but that isn't much to go on. I've put $5 down for a NJ Archives search for a birth record for Harrison H. Allen. I will report back when this has been done, usually within 2 weeks.

    John Yates

    1. John,

      Wow, five bucks! I must have really struck your curiosity bone. A birth certificate would give us Harrison's parents which should allow us to figure out where Harrison fits in the scheme of New Gretna genealogy.

      Harrison's wife being born in Florida just might be a clue. Some of the New Gretna boys who traveled south on the bunker boats ended up with wives from Florida.

      Pete S