Carlton resident leads local genealogical and preservation efforts

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Heritage Hero: Holly Ricci-Canham

Photo by Tom Rivers – Holly Ricci-Canham is pictured with two books she has written, including “Carlton and Point Breeze” with Avis Townsend and “Legendary Locals of Orleans County.” She is working on a new book about local farms.

Provided photo – Holley Ricci-Canham, back row third from left, is pictured with people on an orphan train re-enactment in April 2004. The group includes, front row: Danielle Ricci, Elizabeth Furmanski and Charlie Ricci. Back row: Cathie Bary, Holly Ricci-Canham and Holly’s mother “Mike” Ricci.

Holley Ricci-Canham is pictured in the Local History Room at the Hoag Library, where she spends a lot of time looking through local records and newspapers.

Provided photo – These orphans, headed to Father Baker’s Home in Lackawanna, are pictured in an undated photo.

Editor’s note: Ricci-Canham also wants to include pictures of children on toy pedal tractors in her upcoming farm book. This picture shows her as a girl on a pedal tractor. For more information about sharing a childhood photo, email Ricci-Canham at

CARLTON – It’s a story that moved Holly Ricci-Canham, and sent her searching through Census records and old newspapers for more information.

Thousands of children from 1853 to 1929 were part of the “orphan train” movement. Their parents may have died, been incarcerated or institutionalized. The children boarded trains and typically headed west, with many welcomed to a home for children in Lackawanna run by Father Nelson Baker. Many others found new homes in farming communities, which were perceived as being “healthy” for the children.

Ricci-Canham was so moved by the story that she organized an orphan train re-enactment in Medina in April 2004. About 500 rode the train, including five original riders on an Orphan Train. Many of the riders have been successful in tracking down their family history.

“We wanted to educate the public about genealogy,” said Ricci-Canham, president of the Orleans County Genealogy Society. “If they could trace their genealogy, any of us can.”

That effort would ramp up Ricci-Canham’s interest and leadership in the local genealogical efforts and also in chronicling local history.

She co-wrote “Carlton and Point Breeze” with Avis Townsend in 2006, a book that is a photographic history of the community.

Ricci-Canham also wrote “Legendary Locals of Orleans County” in 2012, highlighting prominent residents who excelled in civic affairs, business, agriculture, sports, politics and the arts. “We have a lot to crow about,” she said.

Ricci-Canham is interviewing local farmers for a new book about farm families in the county. She has completed 100 oral history interviews as part of that effort.

“The farmers and their families want to tell their stories and share their pictures,” she said. “This book has taken on a life of its own.”

Her book projects are used as fund-raisers for the Orleans County Genealogical Society.

Ricci-Canham has been named one of four “Heritage Heroes” in Orleans County and the group of honorees will be recognized at 7 p.m. Friday as part of the Civil War Encampment at the Medina GCC Campus Center.

Ricci-Canham grew up on a farm in Kenyonville run by her parents, Pete and “Mike” Ricci. They would relocate the fruit and vegetable farm to West Avenue in Albion. Her upbringing on the farm made her what to tell the stories of local “Mom and Pop” farms. She is working to have the book out in the fall during harvest season.

“I’m incurably sentimental and so are all of the people I’ve interviewed,” she said.

Ricci-Canham was nominated for the Heritage Hero award by Matthew Ballard, an award-winner last year and the Orleans County historian.

Ballard said Canham’s efforts with genealogy, helping so many people trace their ancestry, has eased that pressure from local historians. She is president of the Genealogical Society which has 200 members.

“There is no greater puzzle on earth than genealogy,” she said. “We might all be related. The fun is knowing how.”

Ballard also said Ricci-Canham has been an active member of the Daghters of the American Revolution and did most of the work in getting the DAR House on North Main Street listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

“The building is often referred to as the Patriot House, a name established by her,” Ballard said in his nomination letter for Ricci-Canham.

Ricci-Canham continues to travel around the state giving lectures to school children and other groups about the Orphan Train movement. She often brings along costumes and will draft kids into role playing.

Ballard said Ricci-Canham has made many meaningful contributions to preserving local history and honoring many residents who have contributed to the county.

“There are very few people amongst our ranks who can claim such numerous and significant contributions to the betterment of the community and protection of its culture and heritage,” Ballard said. “Without her energy, passion and selfless dedication, I doubt that any of this, that I have mentioned, could come to fruition.”