Leonard Gardiner Watson (1864-1899), Ancestor No. 43

At its core, this is a story about coincidences – and whether there truly is such a thing! Let’s see if we can keep track of them all.

WATSON, Leonard Gardiner

Leonard Gardiner Watson was the youngest child of Rev. Elisha Watson and his wife Harriet Husted Watson. (That makes him my great-great grand uncle – brother of my great-great grandfather.)

After Rev. Watson’s death in 1879, and the marriages of all her older children, Harriet’s household included only her two youngest, Leonard and his next-older sister Emma. Shortly after Emma’s marriage in 1882, the whole lot of them – Emma, her husband Lincoln Reynolds, Leonard, AND Harriet all moved off to Cresco, in Howard County, Iowa. Harriet went back home first, to tend her ailing mother in 1883, eventually marrying Orrin T. Husted, a first cousin, in 1887. Lincoln & Emma and their four children returned to New York about 1892.

But Leonard stayed on. You see, there was this girl…

Leonard met Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, and they were married on February 13, 1890. Lizzie’s maiden name was Watson – [There’s Coincidence #1!] – though the families were not related. Lizzie’s father James Watson emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland in 1850.

Leonard and Lizzie had two daughters – Emma and Kate – and all was lovely until the summer of 1899, and the eerie Coincidence #2.

Death-WATSON, Leonard G 1899

Yes, it’s a terrible, sad story. But the odd part is that Leonard’s eldest brother, George, had himself been struck by lightning in Saratoga Springs some 30 years earlier. But George survived.

News-WATSON, Geo W-Lightning-1868


So, Leonard’s girls grew up without their father. Lizzie eked out a living as a dressmaker, and managed to send both her daughters to college. Emma married Raymond Collis in 1917; Kate became a teacher and remained single until she married hometown boy Lynn Kellow at age 46.

WATSON, Lizzie, Emma & Kate-sm
Lizzie with Emma and Kate (right), and Emma’s son Robert, circa 1936.

Immediately after their wedding, Emma and Raymond Collis moved off to East Orange, New Jersey, where Raymond had a job as an engineer with Western Electric. It’s a definitely a coincidence (#3) that Emma’s cousin Orin Elisha Watson (son of the John C. Watson who received the 1899 telegram announcing Leonard’s death) also lived in East Orange and worked at the same company as her husband; it’s less of one that she knew he was there and actively tracked him down. Orin & Helen became fast friends and a longtime bridge foursome with Emma & Raymond.

Back to Leonard, I’m convinced there’s no coincidence involved in the story concerning his birth. He was born September 29, 1864 in Amsterdam, New York, where his father had been posted to the local Methodist church. A few months earlier (June 17, 1864), another boy had been born in Amsterdam – the son of the Leonard Gardiners – he a successful merchant and inventor, and clearly a very good friend of Rev. Watson’s. The boys’ names were Elisha Watson Gardiner and Leonard Gardiner Watson.

But at the bottom of this whole story is a sneaking suspicion – a nagging one, even – that the Watsons and the Gardiners were kin. Two very, very old surnames in Rhode Island history, each well known to have left Rhode Island for the wilds of upstate New York, and each showing a distinct tendency to name their boys Elisha.

But so far – bupkis.

We’ll see. I’ve got a hunch, and I’ve seen weirder ones pay off!


  1. I just realized that my LY Gardiner would probably have been the father of your Leonard Gardiner (a brother of my Marcus) since my LY Gardiner was born in 1825, was married to Josena Bronson on 10/05/1847 and died 1/13 1902. I wish my mother’s cousin (Jim Gardiner) was still alive as he knew them all (he was a Gardiner from Amsterdam too). I also have a photo of the Gardiners on their front porch. Jim Gardiner identified all the people in it except for one boy and a baby so one of them might be your Leonard.

    • Thanks for the note, Anita! It gets confusing, doesn’t it. Your LYG and Josena were the parents of Marcus, LYG Jr, and Elisha Watson Gardiner (among others). My actual 2nd great-grand uncle was Leonard Gardiner Watson, son of LYG’s good friend Rev. Elisha Watson. Since they named their sons after one another, I’m assuming they were good friends – no other evidence to back it up though. I believe we’re related somehow, but not sure just how. I’ve tried to trace the Gardiner family back – and did pretty well, all the way back to Long Island, NY. But I don’t see an obvious link to my Watsons. I’d forgotten there were Hubbells in that line too. Hubbells are a maternal-side match for me. Crazy.

      • I’m not sure if you got my first email. I told you about a lady I have a photo of named Effie VanBrocklin Gardiner. Written on the back is Mrs. Watson G.-I think in my grandmother’s handwriting. Do you have anything on her?

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