The Descendants of Ezra

4 09 2012

The inspiration for this entry comes from a recent Sun article detailing the rescue of a woman from the gorge, in which the first responder was a Cornell student, and descendant of Ezra Cornell.

Some famous people, like William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, have no living direct descendants. Ezra Cornell, who is at least famous to those who have spent four or more years in Ithaca, is quite the contrary.

Ezra Cornell had either nine or eleven children, which sounds prodigious until you realize that couples had as many children as possible back in the mid-19th century simply to ensure that nature and probability would allow at least a few of them to survive into adulthood. Indeed, four of Cornell’s children died before the age of 25. However, that leaves behinds seven children – three boys and four girls (or five children consisting of three boys and two girls, depending on which source is correct).

The most famous of Ezra’s direct descendants is likely his son Alonzo, who served as governor of New York from 1880 to 1882, and was married twice. The wikipedia article claims he had four boys. One of them, Charles Ezra Cornell (d. 1947), served as trustee and had three children of his own, of which at least one, William Cornell, survived to adulthood. So plenty of possibilities for descendants here.

Regarding Ezra’s other surviving children, Franklin Cornell, a banker, passed away in 1908, and at that time, three of his four children were still alive – one boy, Franklin Cornell, and two daughters, Ms. Dorothy Cornell and Mrs. Eunice Cornell Taylor.

Oliver Perry Cornell, the third son of Ezra, survived well into his mature years (d. 1911). He married and had at least one son.

As for the daughters, they tend to be less easy to track, since they take the names of their husbands. There was Mary Emily Cornell  and Emma Pettit Cornell Blair (d. 1914), of which I can be certain. A Dorothy and Emma Cornell also appear in one of the sources, but this could be a repeat, someone’s wife, or some other error (and this is why I would never wish to be a genealogist). Mary went to Vassar, passed away at the age of 87 in 1935 (making her the last of the first generation), and appears to have remained unmarried. But Emma did marry, and had three boys, Charles, Cornell, and Hamilton Blair.

So, given this illustration, it is likely that there are Cornell descendants sill kicking around today, many of whom still live near the Ithaca area. Among those, Ezra Cornell IV (class of 1970), and the kid from the Sun article, Thomas Ezra Cornell Collum ’14.

On a final note, in the early days of the university, direct descendants could attend free of charge. However, with the proliferation of descendants, this practice was discontinued beyond the fourth generation, by order of the Board of Trustees in 1932. The university notes that the last folks eligible were of college-age around sixty years ago. So even if you find out you’re a seventh-generation progeny of Ezra, it won’t help your pocketbook if you attend the Big Red. But I’m sure it would make a nice conversation piece.



15 responses

4 09 2012

There is also the provision that the eldest lineal descendant of Ezra Cornell is entitled to life tenure on the Board of Trustees. I believe this is currently Ezra Cornell IV ’70 (and that he took his seat while still an undergraduate).

15 01 2013
Brandy Heineman

That story about free tuition to Cornell University made it to my branch of the family tree, and we are very (very very!) far removed from Ezra Cornell. I can understand why the Trustees ended it! I enjoyed this post. 🙂

15 01 2013
A Genealogist’s Guide to Storytelling: Facts, Clues, and the In-Between Bits | Brandy Heineman

[…] could attend school there for free. (The blog Ithacating in Cornell Heights has the scoop on that here.) Still, it was definitely a story to take with a grain of salt, especially since […]

5 05 2014
Roger Wolsey

I believe this is all to have been true. I also believe with the research that Cornell university money stems from the great grand mother Rebecca Cornell and her mother Rebecca Briggs married to George Wolsey, 4th descendant of the Cardinal Wolsey who served as Henry the VIII advisor through this era. I think following this linage. I think it may be difficult to find deeper source than the cardinal as record keeping prior is quite poor prior to this era do late 1400 early 1500’s . I say this Cornell Family thank god firstly and the Wolsey heritage secondly.

5 05 2014
B. C.

Mmm, I have to disagree with the source of money. Ezra Cornell grew up in modest means, and made his fortune by being a co-founder of Western Union.

28 05 2015
Jacob Cornell

My name is Jacob Thomas Cornell. I live in Sandy Creek, NY, which is about 2 hrs miles from Ithica NY. I am a direct decedent of Erza. But my grandfather was the last to inherit the free tuition, although, he did not use it. William is the father of my Great Grandfather Donald Cornell, who is a Veteran of the Korean War. From there there is Jesse Cornell Sr. who is a ret. Soldier in the Vietnam era. Then my father Jesse Cornell II who is my father and a Ret. Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps and Iraq War veteran. Then my brother Jesse Cornell III. If you are interested in interviewing me and possibly having information about the background of my family please let me know. And if any distant relatives are reading this I would very much like to connect with you. I do know of another Cornell family in Sandy Creek who are distant cousins.

1 12 2015
Karen Kruger

Hi Jacob, I am a descendant of Ezra B Cornell’s youngest sister, Jane Cornell she married James Finch, my grandmothers father from Ithaca. My grandmother and her husband made their way to Michigan and then to Oregon where we are now. Did you know that Ezra’s 4th great grandmother was Benjamin Franklin’s grandmother?

11 01 2016
Ezra C Cornell

My name is Ezra C Cornell and I’m the 6th generation of Ezra Cornell with 3 sisters. We live in Ithaca NY too. My father you might know as Ezra Cornell, who is a trustee since he was 11 years old. One of my sisters had a 7th generation granddaughter!

3 11 2016
Patty Harshbarger

My mother’s family descended from James and Jane Finch. My mother, Mary Benham Bush (born 1921) was raised in Homer, Michigan. My middle name is after Jane Cornell Finch. I was surprised to find someone mention the Finch line!

17 12 2017
Carol Cornell Thomas

My grandfather’s name was Stephen Harper Cornell. His father was Jacob Cornell who married Gertrude Anderson. From what I hear, Jacob Cornell was put out of the family for marrying a “domestic” since Gertrude Anderson was the family’s domestic servant originally from Sweden. Could we be related?

18 12 2017

Yes my great great grandmothers name is Mary Emily Cornell Barker a niece of Ezra Cornell’s. Her name and her husbands was found in the Cornell Library via the Internet. Although my father always told me he could have attended Cornell free of charge also, he never went there. My great great grandmother and grandfather we both college graduates.

Marcia Radford Hoskins

Sent from my iPhone


2 06 2015
Marcia Jean Hoskins

Jacob, nice to read your note. We are no doubt somehow related as my father’s maternal great grandmother was Emily Cornell Barker # 975. She married Robert Barker in New York on May 12, 1850. The Barker’s were also an old NY family. The Barkers had three children and one daughter, named Mary Emily Barker, married Burr Northrop my father’s grandparents. One son interestingly, worked for the telegraph company. The Northrop’s had a daughter named Mabelle Northrop Radford my grandmother.

The Barkers left NY and moved to Kentucky, as Prof.Barker became president of Paducah Women’s Seminary and later they moved to Lansing, Michigan, where Prof. Barker was the first president of The Michigan School for the Blind, and where our family have lived for 5 generations. The comment was made in their obituaries that Emily Cornell Barker was also a lady of fine education.

We have a long history in Lansing, Michigan and my father (Scott Erwin Radford) his father, Fred Lester Radford (my grandfather) was a mechanical engineer, who graduated from Michigan State College, in 1903 and helped RE Olds design the first REO car. I’m honored to belong to wonderful families and the DAR through both my grandparents family trees. It was interesting to read your comments! Thanks to all those who have served our country to make it free!
Marcia Radford Hoskins

5 09 2016
Jacqueline Christenson

Just another member of the Cornell family tree. My great-grandmother was Minno Lovina Cornell, daughter of Hiram Cornell and Katherine Thomas. She once said she was a niece of Ezra Cornell. She married a Wolfkeil. later spelled Wolfkill. They had sons who were well-known educators also.

31 01 2017
Addie Gardiner

Another member here! My grandfather is Bud Cornell and he is still around today in Bay Shore NY!

22 05 2017
Rod O'Dell

My Grandmother Elsie Cornell 3rd generation is related as I just learned this fact right before my mother passed away 2 1/2 months ago. I would love to have my daughter go To Cornell. She loves science & arts. I Rod O’Dell live in the Chicago land area. I guess Elsie’s mother was a seamstress.
take care all.

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