Author: spuddled

Sister Wives (Not Concurrent): Lydia Hoffmann Swing

Sister Wives (Not Concurrent): Lydia Hoffmann Swing

Today we commemorate the birthday of Lydia Hoffmann, born 25 February 1877 in Renaucourt, France. She was the second child of Jacob Hoffmann and his second wife, Christine Schmidt, making her the half-sister of my great-great-grandmother Catherine Hoffmann and the full sister of my great-grandfather, Paul Hoffmann. Catherine’s granddaughter, Velma, married Paul’s son, Joseph, and those were my maternal grandparents. Yes, I know. I’m my own grandpa.

But back to Lydia. The Archives du Bas-Rhin include her civil birth record, naming her as “Liti Hoffmann.” In 1883, when Lydia was 6, Jacob Hoffmann and (most) of his family moved from France to Fairbury, Illinois. Of particular importance to Lydia’s story was another traveler in the group, her half-sister Eugenie “Jennie” Hoffmann, born in 1865. She was the 7th child of Jacob and his first wife Anna Mayer.

Litie Hoffmann Birth Record

There aren’t many records available concerning Lydia’s girlhood. Her older full sister, Louise, died a year and a half after the family’s emigration, which must have been a sad loss to everyone. One assumes Lydia attended school and moved along with her parents from Fairbury to Strawn to Forrest to Fountain Creek.

Many of Lydia’s siblings and half-siblings married and started families of their own. One of these was the aforementioned “Jennie,” who married Joseph Gilbert Swing on 14 February 1890. Joseph was a widower when Jennie married him; he had married Anna Schaeppi in February 1886, and the two had two children, Walter and Anna. Joseph’s wife Anna died at age 26 in June 1888. After Joseph and Jennie’s 1890 marriage, they had four children of their own.

The 1900 census enumerates the Joseph Swing family on Elm Street in Fairbury: Joe Swing, born August 1861 in Germany, a hardware clerk; “Euginie,” his wife, born May 1865 in France; and five children, all born in Illinois: son Walter, born February 1886; son Joseph, born September 1892; daughter Mary, born January 1893; son Willie, born August 1897; and son Jacob, born April 1899.

I have yet to find the younger Anna Swing or Lydia Hoffmann in the 1900 census. And on 12 June, only a week after the census taker recorded Joseph and Jennie’s details, 35-year-old Jennie died. Her obituary notes that she died at home after only a few days’ illness.

“The deceased was a loving and affectionate wife and mother, a kind neighbor and a true friend.  The blow falls heavily upon the bereaved husband and motherless children and they have the sympathy of the entire community.”

Eugenie (Hoffmann) Swing Gravestone
Graceland Cemetery, Fairbury, Illinois

At a distance of nearly 125 years, I’m not sure of the details of what happened next, but the outcome is not uncommon. Perhaps Lydia had been helping Joseph raise his motherless children? A little over a year after Jennie’s death, on 1 September 1901, Joseph and Lydia were married in Iroquois County, Illinois. He was 16 years her senior. Their marriage would last for the next 47 years and produce 11 children. The first, born in 1902 was named Eugenie and called Jennie, just like Lydia’s sister and Joseph’s second wife. This Jennie was followed by Elizabeth, born 1903; Harvey, born 1904; Christine, born 1907; Phillip, born 1908; Gilbert, born 1911; Carolyn, born 1913; Edna, born 1914; Inez, born 1916; Jesse, born 1917; and Ruth, born 1920. Phillip, Edna, and Ruth died young, but the others lived well into their golden years.

Joseph and Lydia were enumerated in Fairbury in the 1910 census; in Prairie City, Indiana, in 1920; in Starke County, Indiana, in 1930; and again in Prairie City in 1940. On 29 July 1948 Joseph died in La Crosse, Indiana at age 86. Lydia was enumerated in the 1950 census in La Crosse living with her “son” Walter (really her stepson, Joseph’s eldest child). Confusingly for the casual reader, Lydia’s “son” was 63 to her 73. Lydia lived another 7 years, dying of a myocardial infarction at age 80 on 21 September 1957 in Valparaiso, Indiana. Joseph and Lydia are buried together in Oak Grove Cemetery in La Crosse.

Lydia’s obituary mentions those loved ones who predeceased her, including her two daughters and a son, then lists her survivors as 7 sons and 7 daughters as well as 20 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. No mention is made of the fact that of the 14 surviving children, six were not her own biological children. One gets the feeling that perhaps in Litie’s mind there was no difference.

Joseph and Lydia (Hoffmann) Swing
Find a Grave Memorial
Her Demise Was Not Entirely Unexpected: The Death of Agnette Roberg

Her Demise Was Not Entirely Unexpected: The Death of Agnette Roberg

On this day 105 years ago, my great-great-grandmother Agnette (Lien) Roberg died in Boone County, Nebraska. Hers was in many ways the quintessential immigrant story. Born 30 November 1844 in Biri, Oppland, Norway, she was the daughter of Evan Olsen Lien and his wife Karen Larsdatter Onsrud. According to sources at the University of Tromsø, in 1865 both she and her sister Oline were employed as maids.

On 12 January 1871 Agnette gave birth to a son, listed on the record of his 7 May 1871 baptism in Ostre Toten, Oppland as Emil Marthinus, son of Marthinus Juliussen. He would later go by the name Emil Martin. I need to further investigate the relationship between Agnette and Marthinus, as it appears Marthinus was still alive and living in Oppland long after Agnette and Emil emigrated to America.

Agnette and 7-year-old Emil emigrated in 1878 on the S. S. Angelo. On 3 December of that year, Agnette, then 34, married a 23-year-old bachelor, Anders Mathis Roberg, in Rushford, Minnesota. In May of the following year, the family of three left Minnesota for Nebraska in a covered wagon. Less than a year after their move, on 17 February 1880, Agnette would give birth to her second child, Severin Andrew. Severin was followed on 5 November 1881 by Sophie Christine (the only great-grandparent I ever met, and only because she lived to be 97), and on 2 June 1884 by Sena.

The family appears in the 1880 census in Shell Creek, Boone County, Nebraska, and in the 1900 and 1910 censuses in Midland Precinct, Boone County. Tragedy had struck the family in 1908 with the gruesome death of Sena’s husband, Charlie Johnson, which was followed by various legal entanglements and Sena’s eventual mysterious disappearance. In addition, Sophie and her husband Carl Ozro Wilson had lost two small children: Anders Clarence Wilson died on his 2nd birthday, 13 August 1909, and Woodrow Wilson died at two days old on 23 July 1917.

These events must have made the later years of Agnette’s life sad ones. Sometime around 1917 Agnette was diagnosed with liver cancer, and on 18 February 1919 she succumbed to the disease at the age of 74 years, 2 months, and 19 days. According to her death certificate, she was buried two days later in the South Branch Cemetery in Newman Grove, Nebraska. I have visited this beautiful windswept cemetery and seen where Agnette was buried that day, and where Anders was buried following his death 24 years later. Grandson Anders Clarence is buried near them; baby Woodrow Wilson is buried near his own parents in the Winner, South Dakota, cemetery.

Agnette’s obituary appeared in the Newman Grove Reporter of 19 February 1919. It mentions her failing health and not unexpected demise. Enumerating Agnette’s survivors, the writer refers to Emil “Roeberg” living near Bradish, “Severn” northwest of Newman Grove, “Mrs. Sina Johnson, whose place of residence we did not learn,” and “Mrs. Carl Wilson,” living in Dakota. The writer notes that Agnette was survived by thirteen of her fifteen grandchildren.

Finally, the writer captures much of Agnette’s life in one succinct paragraph: “Mr. and Mrs. Roeberg [sic] were among the oldest settlers in this county coming here forty years ago they bravely endured the hardships incident to pioneer life. They are well and favorably known throughout the entire community.” A fitting epitaph.

Sophie, Anders, Severin, Emil, Agnette, Sena
The Double Event: John and Joseph Clarke

The Double Event: John and Joseph Clarke

For any true crime buffs out there, I’m sorry, this post has nothing to do with the “Double Event” of Jack the Ripper. Long before the Whitechapel murders, John Clarke, my 13th great-grandfather, was born, probably in 1542 in Suffolk, England. I don’t know the date of his birth, but he was christened 482 years ago today. He was the son of another John Clarke (born in Westhorpe, Suffolk in about 1503) and his wife Margaret (born in Finningham, Suffolk). He was one of at least 6 children born to John and Margaret. On 12 October 1567 in Westhorpe he married Katherine Cooke who, interestingly, was christened 483 years ago tomorrow.

It is possible that John was christened in St. Margaret’s Church, Westhorpe, which may date back to the 11th century, and certainly to the 14th. If so, I walked in the elder John and Margaret’s footsteps when I visited Westhorpe, Finningham, and Saxstead (another Suffolk family village) in 2014. I wrote a bit about this trip in an earlier blog post. St. Bartholomew’s Church in Finningham was not built until 1560, so John could not have been christened there, though both he and Katherine died in Finningham in 1598, 8 days apart. Interestingly, John died 344 years to the day before my dad was born, and 376 years to the day before I was.

St. Margaret’s Church, Westhorpe

John and Katherine had at least 7 children. Their second, Thomas, was born in Westhorpe and married Rose Kerrich in Saxstead. Thomas and Rose had at least 12 children; the third of these was Joseph Clarke, though not one of our 11 February Clarkes. He was, however, the first of this Clarke line to emigrate to America. He was born in Westhorpe in 1618 but was “admitted as an inhabitant of Portsmouth, Rhode Island” in 1639. In about 1658 in Westerly, Rhode Island, he married a woman named Margaret, and they had ten children.

Their eldest child, my 10th great-grandfather, was named Joseph, and he was born on 11 February 1642 in Newport, Rhode Island, exactly 100 years after his great-grandfather was christened. Of course, some sources differ and give his birth date as 11 February 1643, which kind of ruins the fun of the centennial celebration. In 1664 Joseph married Bethiah Hubbard; their eldest child, Judith, married John Maxson. In turn their daughter Elizabeth married John Davis, which is where our Davis line comes in.

It’s interesting to hear the echoes of all these repeating dates. They continue in our more recent family history as well since, as noted above, I was born in my dad’s 32nd birthday, and then my nephew was born the day after I turned 37. I may not be sure about the 100 years separating John’s christening and Joseph’s birth, but there is another 100-year coincidence on the Hoffmann side of the family. That one is kind of sad, though, so for now I’ll focus on the christening and birth double event. And maybe go find some celebratory cake.

There’s No Place Like Home: The Waglers in Kansas

There’s No Place Like Home: The Waglers in Kansas

One hundred twenty-three years ago today, Louie Theadore Wagler was born in Gridley, Kansas. He was a second cousin twice removed on my maternal side, being the great-grandson of Samuel John and Mary (Walty) Slegel. This surname appears with a variety of spellings; Samuel John and Mary’s son, Samuel Slagel, was my great-great-grandfather who lived and is buried in Fairbury, Illinois.

Samuel Slagel’s sister (and Samuel John Slegel’s daughter), Magdaline “Mattie” Slegel married Christian Wagler in Iowa, but by 1880 the family was living in Liberty, Coffey County, Kansas. Mattie died in Coffey County after giving birth to 11 children. Her widower remarried and eventually moved to Fairbury himself. Christian and Mattie’s third child, Alpheus Wagler married Luella VanArsdale in Coffee County, and on 4 February 1901 their first child, Louie, was born.

Louie first appears in the 1910 census (listed as “Lewie”), though at this time his family is living in Rock Island County, Illinois. The first four Wagler children had been born in Kansas, but the fifth was born in Iowa in 1909. The sixth was not born until 1918, and by then the family was back in Kansas, enumerated in Shell Rock Township, Greenwood County.

Three years later, on 17 May 1923, Louie married Erma Grace Cokeley in Burlington, Coffee County, Kansas. Emma was 2 years and 6 days younger than Louie. There are some mysteries surrounding this family (mysteries to me anyway since I’m piecing things together from online records). Louie’s first cousin, Alpha Wagler, and his wife Vera had several children, including Alvin Van Buren Wagler, born 3 March 1929 in Morton, Illinois; and Doris Eileen Wagler, born 21 March 1931, also in Morton. According to Find a Grave, Doris was adopted by Louie and Erma, though this source lists Louie as Alpha’s brother rather than cousin. In the 1930 census baby Alvin is still living with his birth parents, but in 1940 Louie, Erma, Alvin, and Doris are all enumerated together in Madison, Greenwood County, Kansas. In 1930 Louie’s occupation was listed as “truck driver, oil field,” and in 1940 as “general work, oil field.”

In February 1942 Louie Theadore Wagler appears in the World War II draft records. He indicates his place of residence as Kenbro, Kansas and his employer’s name as “Tyde-Water Oil Co.” of Tulsa, Oklahoma, though his actual place of business is Kenbro. In the description section, Louie is noted as being 5’10”, 163 pounds, with gray eyes, brown hair, and a light brown complexion. Five year’s later Louie’s adopted son Alvin also appears in draft registration records. Alvin is listed as a senior at Madison High School also doing part-time farm work for George Clopton. He is 5’9″, 150 pounds, with hazel eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion.

At this point Louie and Erma’s nest begins to empty. A year later a notice appeared in The Selma (California) Enterprise concerning the wedding of Ruth Faye Anderson to Alvin Wagler at the Westside Christian Church in San Francisco on 18 June 1948. The article goes on to state that Alvin was “attending the Navy school at Treasure Island, where he is specializing in electronics materiel.” In the 1950 census Alvin, Ruth, and their new baby Judith are living with her parents at 31 Loehr Street in San Francisco, a house that was built in 1944 according to real estate websites but still exists.

Meanwhile Louie, Erma, and Doris are still living in Kansas, now in Iuka, Pratt County. Louis is listed as 49 and an oil well pumper for Tidewater Oil. Doris is also employed, as a bookkeeper for Iuka State Bank. Because 19-year-old Doris is one of the 20% of individuals asked to provide additional details to the census enumerator, we know that she had completed the 12th grade, had worked 26 hours the previous week and had earned $650 the previous year (equivalent to roughly $8450 today).

Later that year Doris would marry as well, to Walter Albert Peterson at the First Methodist Church in Pratt, Kansas. The Hutchinson (Kansas) News describes Doris’s white crepe gown and nylon veil, blue rhinestone necklace and earrings, and bouquet of red carnations and fern tied with a yellow satin ribbon. The couple honeymooned at Kirkwood Lodge at Lake of the Ozarks.

Because U.S. census records are only released after 72 years have elapsed, fewer details are available for the Waglers after 1950. The Wichita Eagle of 15 March 1989 includes Erma’s obituary, noting her death the day before and that she was survived by Louie, Alvin, Doris, plus seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Louie would survive a further 7 years, dying on Halloween 1996 at the age of 95. A brief obituary in the Gilroy (California) Dispatch notes Alvin’s death on 29 October 2016, and Find a Grave, as mentioned before, includes a full memorial for Doris, who died in Junction City, Kansas, on 25 April 2019. She was survived by 4 sons, 2 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren, 3 great-great-grandchildren, and cats Kif and Spicy. Doris, Louie and Erma are all buried in the Iuka Cemetery. Louie’s Find a Grave memorial includes a photo of him from his work in the Kansas Oil Fields. Happy birthday, cousin.

Photo added to Find a Grave by Bertha Avery-Hood
Dark as a Dungeon: Coal Miner Zina Flanigan

Dark as a Dungeon: Coal Miner Zina Flanigan

This week’s snapshot of family history centers around the untimely death of Zina Edward Flanigan, my fifth cousin twice removed. He was a descendant of “Bottom Billy” Davis, mentioned here previously. The fifth of twelve children of William T. and Lydia Jane (Greene) Flanigan, he was born 16 December 1895 in the Coal district of Harrison County, West Virginia. This is not to be confused with Coal City, West Virginia, which is farther south in the state, in Raleigh County. Many of our relatives were from the Seventh Day Baptist strongholds of Harrison and Doddridge Counties.

In the 1900 census Zina’s father is listed as a coal dig[g]er, supporting his growing family in one of the many coal mines throughout that region. In 1910 Zina, now 15, is still listed as attending school and not employed. An interesting photograph from the West Virginia History OnView website shows a boy of 15 at work in the coal mines in 1908, so it would not have been unheard of for Zina to have been working by this time.

This reliance on the coal mines for the family’s livelihood can be readily seen throughout their census records. By 1920 Zina had married, but his siblings still at home were beginning to find employment to help out; his sister May, 24, is listed as “working out,” and Lester, 17, as a “laborer, coal mines.” In 1930 Zina’s father’s occupation had changed to “quarry man, stone quarry,” but Howard, 24, was a “loader, coal mines.” In 1940 William, Lydia, and Howard were living with Zina’s youngest sibling Glen, though Glen is a carpenter. William, now 72, is still employed in the coal mines, now as a coal loader, while Howard is listed as a “machinist, coal mine.”

Meanwhile Zina, no longer under his father’s roof, continued down the coal mining path. On 2 July 1917 21-year-old Zina married Bessie Arthelia Ash, 20 years old, at her father’s residence. At about the same time, Zina registered for the draft and noted his employer was the Clark Coal Company. In 1918 Bessie gave birth to their first child, Kenneth Bute Flanigan, but Kenneth died in 1920. His cause of death (along with that of 5 others on the same page) is listed helpfully as “complications.” Three more sons followed (in 1921, 1924, and 1931), all of whom lived to adulthood and can be found in later censuses.

Zina can be found in 1930 but not 1940, as he died 84 years ago today at the age of 44. Unlike the death certificate for baby Kenneth, Zina’s provides a bit more detail on both his life and death. His occupation is listed as Coal Miner at Katherine Mines. His parentage, birth date, and marriage to Bessie are confirmed. And according to the information supplied by his attending physician, Zina died at the Union Protestant Hospital in Clarksburg at 4:30 a.m. on the 28th, having been attending by Dr. Williams starting on the 26th. Dr. Williams indicates Zina’s cause of death as “meningitis (strep)” and then adds “A history of a head injury while working in the Mines – (a possible cause).” I didn’t realize meningitis could be caused by head injury, but a quick Google search confirmed this is a possibility. One thinks of mining accidents and black lung, but less so about injuries from which one recovers only to have them prove fatal in a circuitous way later on. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find further details about Zina’s head injury history.

The newly-widowed Bessie appears in the 1940 census as head of the household, along with her sons, then 19, 15, and 8. None are listed as having employment. According to the Find a Grave website, Bessie remarried in 1944, but that marriage soon ended in divorce. In 1954 she married again, to Harvey Kyle in Frederick County, Virginia. That marriage lasted 21 years until Harvey’s death. Bessie herself would die in 1990 in Baltimore at the age of 93, having outlived Zina by more than half a century.

Death Certificate of Zina Flanigan

His Face Will Be Missed: Horseman Ozro C. Taylor

His Face Will Be Missed: Horseman Ozro C. Taylor

For every grim or simply sad death anniversary, there is a birthday to commemorate. On this day in 1847, my third great-granduncle, Ozro C. Taylor was born in New York State. His parents were Loring and Caroline (Caryl) Taylor, my 4G-grandparents, both of whom were born in Vermont. His eldest sister was Thesta Taylor, about whom I’ve written previously, and his second sister, Lucy Bridges Taylor, was my 3G-grandmother.

Ozro was enumerated with his parents and siblings in 1850 in Louisville, New York, and in Russell, New York in 1860. Four years later, at age 17, he enlisted as a substitute for a Seymour Gibbons1 and served in the 1st Regiment, New York Light Artillery, from 29 August 1864-17 June 1865. Of particular interest to me as a diehard Little House on the Prairie fan/nerd is the fact that he enlisted at Malone, New York, hometown of Almanzo Wilder. Sometime in 1865, Ozro’s father Loring died in Russell. I can’t help but wonder whether his death occurred before or after his son was mustered out of the military or if he was unable to see him again before he died.

By 1870 Loring’s mother Caroline had moved to Buchanan County, Iowa, where she was living with her eldest son Orric and his young family. Ozro was also married, though he was still living in Russell with his wife Helen (Carr) Taylor, 22, and their children Hattie, aged 2, and Charley, 4 months.

Sometime between the 1870 census enumeration and 1872, Ozro and Helen would follow Orric and Caroline to Iowa. Caroline continued to live with Orric’s family, though they, as well as Ozro’s family, now lived one county north, in Fayette County’s seat, West Union. By 1880 Hattie and Charley (now listed in the census as Charles M. Taylor) had been joined in the family by Millie, 8; Loring, 6; and Leon, 2.

Often our only glimpse into ancestors’ lives comes once every 10 years with census enumerations. We are lucky in the case of Ozro in that he appears numerous times in contemporary newspapers. Though in 1870 Ozro is listed as a farm laborer, by 1880 his occupation appears as “liveryman.” He and his brother Orric are said2 to have operated a livery business together in West Union between 1874 and 1877, at which time Orric became a West Union deputy sheriff. It seems plausible that Ozro continued in the livery business, as this affinity for horses is evident in many of the newspaper articles in which he appears.

The first of these that I found was in Davenport, Iowa’s Morning Democrat of 11 July 1884. In a listing of horses that were expected to appear at the Davenport track the following week, an “O. C. Taylor” from Ainsworth, Nebraska is noted as entering a chestnut mare, Flora P., and a bay mare, Mountain Girl. I have yet to determine when, if, or under what circumstances Ozro actually was in Ainsworth, but the next month he entered both mares in the Mahaska (Iowa) County Fair races according to the 28 August 1884 Oskaloosa Herald. A week later the Herald reported that Flora and Mountain Girl placed first and second, respectively, in the “Free for all Trotting.” In this article O. C. is noted as being from West Union.

In May 1885 Ozro entered the two horses in races at Sioux City, according to the Sioux City Journal of 28 May. Mountain Girl would race on the first day, and Flora P. on the third day. Mountain Girl is even called out as a “well-known trotter” who had a “close contest with Elmwood Chief at Minneapolis” two years previously. The Journal of 9 June 1885 confirms Mountain Girl’s entry for that day’s race, and two days later the same paper notes Flora P.’s entry.

A non-horse-related snippet in Cedar Rapids’s Evening Gazette of 24 August 1885 notes that “O. C. Taylor and wife…Sundayed in the city.” The following month, according to The Des Moines Register, Flora P. and Mountain Girl were expected to race at the Iowa State Fair.

The next entry I have found thus far appeared in the 26 June 1889 Evening Gazette. Here Ozro is noted as entering chestnut mare Lena Miller for the following day, and an article concerning that day’s races notes that Lena Miller took second place in two races, and third and fourth in two others. Two days later, Lena Miller placed third once, fourth three times, and second once. On 26 August 1889, The Gazette noted “O. C. Taylor of West Union is in the city for a week with the horsemen.”

The following year, in the 7 November 1890 Fayette County Leader, a small poignant article notes that O. C. Taylor’s “fast four-year-old, ‘Bixie,’ is dead.” And then little more than a month later the same newspaper noted the death of Ozro C. Taylor himself. The article noted that he had been “ailing all the Fall.” Ozro was only 43 when he died on 8 December 1890, and he was buried in the West Union Cemetery, as are numerous other relatives including his mother, who preceded him in death in 1887, and his brother Orric, who lived until 1898. Ozro’s wife Helen died 24 July 1923 in Spokane, Washington, and is buried in Fairmount Memorial Park there.

Interestingly, in 2012 I passed through West Union on a trek from Virginia (where I now live) to a high school reunion in Idaho. My mom and I stopped at the cemetery, which Find a Grave tells me has over 5000 gravestones, and I somehow managed to park my car on one of many cemetery lanes and walk straight to the Taylor plot. I still don’t know how that happened. Genealogical serendipity? The Fayette County Leader article announcing Ozro’s death notes that he was well-known in the region for his “trotting stock,” then ends by noting that “His face will be greatly missed at fu[ture] county fairs.” On his 177th birthday, I’d like to think we can all miss him just a little bit too.

  1. New York State Archives. Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.Original data: Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts of New York State Volunteers, United States Sharpshooters, and United States Colored Troops [ca. 1861-1900]. Microfilm, 1185 rolls. New York State Archives, Albany, New York. ↩︎
  2. Portrait and Biographical Album of Fayette County, Iowa: Containing Full Page Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County (n.p: Lake City Publishing Company, 1891). ↩︎
Hemorrhage of the Lungs

Hemorrhage of the Lungs

Today’s is a sad anniversary I came across while scouring the Find a Grave website for the relatives of one “Bottom Billy” Davis, so called because he bought all the bottom land east of Salem, (West) Virginia after moving to the area in 1792. “Bottom Billy” was the grandson of my 9GG William and Elizabeth (Pavior) Davis, making him my first cousin 9 times removed.

One of his other relatives (and also part of that massive migration of Seventh Day Baptist congregants mentioned here before) was Clarence Manly Whitford, son of Asa Maxson Whitford and his wife Catharine Coon. Clarence was the first cousin three times removed of “Bottom Billy,” and the fifth cousin 5 times removed of…me.

Clarence was born 14 August 1854 in Adams, New York. He is enumerated there with his parents and brothers (S.C., Edward Maxson, Asa Adelbert, and J. Myron) in the 1860 Federal Census and the 1865 New York State Census. By the time of the 1870 Federal Census, however, the family had moved to La Clede, Fayette County, Illinois, as they were enumerated there that year. Six years later, on 5 September 1876, Clarence married Orpha M. Crandall. I suspect she is also a cousin, as Crandall is another name common among the Seventh Day Baptist adherents, but I haven’t tracked her down as yet. Sadly, Clarence would not live to be enumerated with this new family in the 1880 Federal Census.

The Find a Grave entry for Clarence quotes The Sabbath Recorder, a Seventh Day Baptist newspaper started in 1844:

“The Sabbath Recorder,” Vol 36, No 8, p 3, Feb. 19, 1880.

At North Loup, Neb., Jan 14th, 1880, of hemorrhage of the lungs, Mr. Charles [sic] M. Whitford, in the 25th year of his age. Mr. Whitford’s home was at Farina, Ill. For many months previous to his death he had been steadily declining in health from the effects of diseased liver and lungs, and in July last, he left his home and family and came here, hoping to regain his health by a change of climate; but his disease had already too firm a hold on him. Learning that he could not long survive, he sent for his wife and little daughter; but they arrived twelve hours too late, and he expired at the residence of Dr. Charles Badger, under whose care he had placed himself, with only one relative, his brother-in-law, Mr. Alfa Crandall, to comfort him in his last hours; but brethren and friends assisted Bro. Crandall in doing all that could be done to provide for his comfort. The funeral service was held with the Church here on the Sabbath-day following, the attendance being very large. He was a member of the Church at Farina, and at the hour of parting he told his brother-in-law that ‘he was satisfied with his hope.’
O. B.

It is not mentioned in his obituary, but Clarence is buried at Hillside Cemetery in North Loup, Nebraska. And though Clarence does not appear in the 1880 Federal Census, he does appear in another type of census from that year: the 1880 U.S. Census Mortality Schedule. These schedules, enumerated in conjunction with the 1850-1880 Federal Censuses, listed information for those who had died the 12 months prior to the established census date. In looking at the record for Clarence in this schedule, I noted that (as I expected), his “hemorrhage of the lungs” was defined there as “consumption” (tuberculosis). What I was not expecting was the entry immediately after Clarence’s:

Ancestry.com. U.S., Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Horace M. Whitford, five months old and born in Illinois, had died, also of consumption, in July, six months prior to Clarence’s death. I confirmed my suspicions that little Horace was Clarence and Orpha’s son with a search of my own through the Sabbath Recorder archives:

Sabbath Recorder, 7 August 1879

It is even more poignant to note that Clarence’s obituary states that he left his family behind in Illinois to try to improve his health in Nebraska “last July.” This suggests that Orpha was on her own when baby Horace died at their home in Illinois at the end of that month. Her own obituary on Find a Grave notes that she and Clarence had had three children in total, two of whom died in infancy, so there is another lost baby I still need to identify.

However, happier times would come for Orpha, in spite of this latest tragedy that struck her 144 years ago today. The “little daughter” who traveled with her but was too late to see Clarence before he died was Lena Louise Whitford, 2 1/2 years old in January 1880. She would marry Theodore Byington Davis in 1900, and they would raise seven children. Lena would die in San Fernando, California, at the age of 77.

And what about Orpha? Nine years after Clarence’s death, she married his older brother Asa, who had been widowed the previous year. Asa and his first wife had had two children, then 17 and 9, so the family home was filled once more. Orpha died in April 1919 in Milton, Wisconsin and is buried in the Milton Junction Cemetery. She shares a headstone with her second husband, who outlived her by 15 years. I’d like to think that at the end she, like her first husband, was “satisfied with [her] hope.”

Another New Leaf: On This Day

I’m trying something new this year…again. Maybe I can make it past January with this blog this time around. For a while there I was making “On This Day” Facebook posts noting several events that took place on that day, selected at random from the pages of our family history. For 2024, I’ve decided to do something similar here. You may get a birth, marriage, death, baptism, graduation, or clambake, but you’ll get the details on the anniversary of the event.

So for the first entry of 2024, you’re getting the birth of Ann Gifford, my 6G-grandmother. Not to be confused with the Ann Gifford mentioned in this post (a 2nd cousin 9 times removed), this Ann was born 7 January 1742 in New Jersey. She was the oldest child (at least according to my records) of Joshua Gifford and his wife Hannah Dean. On 20 January 1761 in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, Ann married Nathan Davis, one of the long line of Seventh Day Baptists in our family history. Like many in this line, Nathan had been born in Rhode Island before migrating to New Jersey and then moving on with his family to what would later become West Virginia. Ann would give birth to at least 13 children, all apparently in New Jersey, but most of the marriages of that next generation took place in Harrison and Doddridge Counties, (West) Virginia.

Nathan died in Salem, in Harrison County, in 1814, and Ann died on 14 October 1820, also in Salem. Both are buried in the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery there, which I visited a number of years ago, though Nathan and Ann were not among the many family graves I saw that day. Their 13 known children were William G., Joshua Gifford, David, John, Hannah, Joseph S. (my 5G-grandfather), Nathan, Tacy, Ann, Mary, Stephen C., Ananias, and another John. Joseph’s line would eventually make its way west, and Ann and Nathan’s great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Blanche would marry Wellington David Wilson, grandfather of my paternal grandmother Blanche Wilson.

So there you have it – a glimpse into an event that took place 282 years ago today. It’s always intriguing to think of all those family events that had to happen just so in order for me to be sitting here typing this today. But then, that’s the beauty of genealogy.

Salem Seventh Day Baptist Church
Salem Seventh Day Baptist Church

Thriller Thursday: Razor Blade Death


John N. Sweeney, my third cousin four times removed, was born in Illinois around 1866. He was not from my maternal Hoffmann side of the family (many of whom lived and/or still live in Illinois) but instead was from the paternal Sweeney branch which originated near what is now Belfast, Northern Ireland, then emigrated to what became Buckingham County, Virginia, then continued on to Casey County, Kentucky. Some of these Sweeney branches then moved again, this time to Illinois.

John’s parents were John Merritt and Eletha J. (Foley) Sweeney. They married in 1865 in McDonough County, Illinois1, and John N. Sweeney was the first of their ten children. The family was enumerated in Emmet, McDonough County, in 1870 and 18802,3. The 1890 census was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1921, but even if it had not been, the younger John would not have lived long enough to be enumerated.

John, Sr., and Eletha were still living in Emmet in December 1889, but John, Jr., then about 23, was working for a John Williamson three miles northwest of his parents’ home. The younger John had spent Sunday, December 8, with his parents, then in the evening left to return to the Williamson farm. Later reports indicated he stopped on the way to attend a church meeting. When he didn’t appear to work on Monday morning, Mr. Williamson assumed his employee was still visiting his parents. However, on Tuesday, John’s body was found in a field near a water tank by a man working half a mile south of the Williamson farm.

According to newspaper accounts of the incident, John’s throat had been cut from ear to ear; a bloody razor was found near a haystack “some rods distant,” along with his boots and stockings. There was a trail of blood leading from the haystack to the water tank where the body was found. An inquest was held, and the finding of the jury was that John had committed suicide, cutting his throat near the haystack, then stumbling (with his gaping neck wound?) to the area of the water tank, where he died.4, 5

The Inter Ocean, 11 December 1889

Maybe I watch too many true crime shows, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the suicide angle for poor cousin John. This method of suicide is unusual enough, but it seems even less likely that John would be traipsing around barefoot after inflicting the fatal blow. However, I can’t find any evidence that the inquest findings were disputed, in spite of the fact that “He left no reason for the act, nor do the family know any.” While it’s not impossible that the inquest findings were correct, I’m sure that in the 21st century there would be enough questions about the circumstances and details surrounding John’s death to warrant further investigation.


1Illinois, Marriage Index, 1860-1920/1800-1940; Ancestry.com
21870 U.S. Federal Census; Ancestry.com
31880 U.S. Federal Census; Ancestry.com
4The Macomb (Illinois) Journal, 12 December 1889; www.newspapers.com
5The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), 11 December 1889; www.newspapers.com

Friday Funny: That Boy is a Girl

On 24 January 1908, the Sisseton (South Dakota) Weekly Standard carried the following blurb on page 5:

On 13 January 1908, Wellington David Wilson’s (my second great-grandfather) second wife Bessie (Olson) Wilson had given birth in Roberts, South Dakota, to her third child, a daughter named Gladys Leona Wilson. As W. D. noted above, the newspaper the previous week had erroneously referenced a “big 10 pound boy” born to the couple, and he chose to clarify things with humor.

Fourteen years later Gladys was confirmed, and some years later married Odin Alf Olson. The two had at least one child, Gloria Dawn Olson (born 22 July 1930 in Watertown, South Dakota). Gladys passed away in 1965 and her husband in 1968; Gloria married Ralph Brostrom in 1993 and died in 2011 in Fairfax, Virginia.