The Orsburn Family of St. Helena, New York

In 1882, John A. Orsburn and Mary Lottie Alger of Greigsville were married and began housekeeping on the farm in St. Helena which was their home until Mrs. Orsburn’s death January 3, 1916. John died there July 9, 1923. Their farm was the fertile flat land on the east side of the river farthest to the north. To them were born eight children, all boys. Two of the children died in 1894 of mumps and whooping cough and were buried in the St. Helena cemetery. As far as can be learned, these burials were the last made in that spot. Three of the boys are still living at this time.

John’s father, C. Chauncey Orsburn, died at the home of his son, January 10, 1904, and his widow died there October 2nd of the same year. Prior to this time the following item was printed and clipped from a newspaper (name not known) :

“AN OLD VIOLIN—There is in possession of Chauncey Orsburn, who lives in St. Helena, town of Castile, and his brother John Orsburn, a violin and case which are attracting a great deal of attention. On the interior of the violin is a slip of paper pasted in, yellow with age, and on it is the following inscription: ‘Made by Guyford Dufflo Bononieufis, Italy, January 12, 1527.’ 1)The name as given in the clipping is apparently not accurate, being a combination of English and Italian. But when the violin was examined during the preparation of this book, the inscription was so dim that the name could not be fully deciphered, even with a reading glass.

“For about 140 years this violin has been in the Orsburn family. The family are a long-lived one, the father having lived to be 102 years of age, and was stung to death in 1864 by bees. Out of his family of six sons and seven daughters, there are two sons and two daughters still surviving, and none of the departed ones died under 70 years, one son dying at the age of 90 years. The daughters now living are over 80 years, while the two sons, Chauncey and John, who own the ancient musical instrument, are aged 83 and 89 respectively. The violin mentioned has been handed down from generation to generation, and is still a sweet-toned instrument. The box which contains this musical instrument was made by John Orsburn while a resident of Michigan, and contains 2,200 different pieces and kinds of wood, polished down and finished in its natural colors. Fifteen pieces were put in every day he worked on it, and in so doing he kept exact account of the number. It took a year and a trifle over to make the case. Over 100 of the pieces contained in the case have an interesting history in relation to the war, and last week these two brothers who are veterans, attended a meeting of the Craig Wadsworth Post, No. 417, G.A.R., at Nunda and told exciting incidents of how a number of the pieces were procured. They both played familiar war tunes on the violin and played them well. The brothers have refused $400 for the case and violin, preferring to keep them in the family. . . .”

The violin, at this writing, Is 427 years old and has been in this same family for 198 years. Before his death, Mr. Orsburn gave the cherished instrument to his grandson, Harry, who was musically inclined, as were all the family. It is now the prized possession of Harry’s widow, Ednah Case Orsburn, who lives at Oakland.

Source: Anderson, Mildred L. H, and Marian P. Willey. St. Helena, Ghost Town of the Genesee, 1797-1954. Castile, N.Y, 1954. Print.

Footnotes:

1The name as given in the clipping is apparently not accurate, being a combination of English and Italian. But when the violin was examined during the preparation of this book, the inscription was so dim that the name could not be fully deciphered, even with a reading glass.

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