Consanguinity: (kŏn'săng-gwĭn'ĭtē) , relationship by blood, whether linear or collateral.

Primarily concentrating on my Browning family from Harrison County, Ohio (and their subsequent move to Crawford County, Illinois) but I've got Plymell, Crago, Eagleton, Garrard, McConnell, Nichols, Swan, Nevitt, Huls, Markee, Depperman, Papstein/Popstein and Hamilton in there too. And that's just the beginning......

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt. 6 - The Winter Years

(See HERE for previous posts in this series...)

After Aunt Martha's death in 1955 it was just my father and my grandparents. My dad finished high school and then decided to enlist in the army in 1960. He was stationed in Germany for 3 years and after he got out he moved to Chicago, where he met and married my mother in 1964. I was born a few years later and my brother a few years after that. We lived in Chicago until the mid-70's, when we moved to Robinson and lived there for four years before finally moving to north central Texas.

For my grandparents life went on at the old home place. The home place had originally been a three-room house with an outhouse but grandma and grandpa had slowly added on to it as their family had grown. I have a datebook that grandma kept from 1954-1960 (and sporadically after that) and it states that they added an addition to the living room in 1951 and finished the upstairs (expanding it from one room to two) in 1953. My grandmother also wanted indoor plumbing and my mom says that grandpa balked about that for years but finally grandma got her way, winning the battle of the outhouse in the early 70's. By the time I ran around the house playing, in the mid-70's, there was a small bathroom right off the kitchen and the outhouse was all boarded up.

That was the way grandma was, though. She didn't say much for the most part, and pretty much let my grandfather run things, but when she did want something or had just had enough of something, she usually got her way. Grandpa knew very well to relent the few times that grandma pitched a fit or put her foot down. They worked well together that way.

By the 80's, though, my grandparents were both in their 80's. My mom and dad and my brother and I had moved to north central Texas, my grandmother's siblings had all died and my grandfather's only living brother was also living in north central Texas. Getting through the Illinois winters was growing more difficult for my grandparents and grandma was tired of being away from her son. Grandma wanted to move to Texas. Grandpa? Well, he had his roots in Illinois soil and he didn't want to leave.

Of course you can guess what happened. They went to Texas!

They had a huge sale before they left Robinson and sold a lot of the old things that were in the house. I didn't realize how much history they'd sold until many years thereafter and even now, thinking about it, it makes me sigh in resignation. I was too young to know what all that would someday mean to me and grandma would say not to cry over spilled milk. I just hope that whoever bought all that old stuff appreciates it like I would if it were mine. Anyway, grandma told me once that a few years after they moved to Texas, grandpa told grandma that he wanted to go on back home. Grandma said she told him, "Virgil, you are welcome to go back to Robinson whenever you want, but you'll have to go on alone."

Grandpa stayed.

It was a good thing they did. Grandpa got sick from leukemia in late 1988 and died in December 1989. I tell that story in the first installment of this series, HERE.

I have so many other memories of my grandmother during those years she lived with my dad after my grandfather's death. Smiling with her at her 100th birthday party, surrounded by her family, and asking her how it felt to be 100 and laughing at her answer: "The same as it felt to be 99."

I also remember that grandma would watch every time my mom came home from the store, looking to see if they'd bought her a refill on her favorite Brach's butterscotch candies. She had a bell that sat by her chair in her room that she would ring if she needed anything. I remember her laugh and her tiny, hoarse sounding voice that was music to my ears. I loved the way her eyes would sparkle when I'd come into her room and visit.

I especially remember her when I was pregnant with my own daughter in the early 90's. She would pat my belly and tell me to take care of myself and I knew that she was hiding the worry she felt and reliving those times with my Aunt Martha in her head. My dad was doing the same. My parents brought my grandma up with them when I went into labor and he, my mom, and my mother in law sat outside the entire 12 hours smoking up a storm in their nervousness. Goodness, the three of them probably created an entire ozone layer on their own!

It was wonderful to lay my daughter in my grandmother's arms. I treasure the picture above. I treasure the fact that my grandma not only lived long enough to forge a relationship with me but also lived long enough so that my own daughter will always be able to remember her "great-nah-nee." I miss her every day and I will go to my own grave missing her.

She had a very long and wonderful life. I am so very privileged to have called her Grandma.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt. 5 - Joy And Tragedy

For previous posts in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

We are up to the part of the story where my grandparents and their young daughter Martha Ann were a happy little family in Robinson, Crawford Co., IL, in the late 30's. The Depression years were over and though times were hard, they weren't as hard as those that had come before. My grandparents owned a house and a good amount of land and had a wonderful little girl to raise. Life was hard but simple and times seemed pretty good for them then.

Then, when my Aunt Martha was about four years old, in late August 1938, tragedy struck their little family. I've written about it all here but I'll briefly recap it again. My grandma and her family were eating dinner with her mother and father, Robert Elbert and Louisa Adaline (Eagleton) Garrard, at their house in Robinson. After dinner grandpa Robert went on outside to the outhouse and on his way back was struck by a runaway car that had rolled over the lawn. Grandma told me many years later that her father, aged 85 at the time, had suffered internal injuries and that it took him a few hours before he passed away.

A few years later, in late 1940, my grandmother and grandfather were surprised when my grandma realized she was pregnant. It had been nearly seven years since she'd had their daughter Martha Ann with no pregnancies in between and I imagine Grandma had just figured Martha was it for them. She was 40, after all! Life, however, has a funny way of giving you what you need -- even when you don't realize that you will at the time.

Grandma told me about my father's birth many times. She said she was frightened when she learned she was pregnant and had nightmares about not being able to carry to term or of dying during the birth. She said these fears were difficult to deal with when she begun to feel sickly midway through her pregnancy. Her doctor told her she'd become anemic. Who knows if she was truly anemic, if she had what we now call toxemia, or perhaps she even had gestational diabetes. Whatever it was, grandma said she felt weak and miserable for most of her pregnancy. I can only imagine how she dreaded giving birth.

These fears were magnified about eight months in when she caught the flu. She was already weak enough and the flu put the so-called icing on the cake. She was bedsick and weak and soon to deliver. A neighbor lady, Kay Badgley, came to my grandma's rescue. She stayed with grandma and took care of her while she was sick and was there to help grandma through giving birth. Grandma told me that Kay saved her life by both assisting in my father's delivery and making sure that grandma herself did not succumb to either the flu or to any complications of childbirth. My grandmother was so grateful to the woman that saved her life that she acknowledged her by giving her son -- my father -- the name Kay as his middle name.

I hear Dad hated it with a passion when he was a teenager. Hah!

My father was born in the spring of 1941 just as World War II broke out overseas. Later on that year my grandparents woke up one morning, a morning that was also my grandfather's 40th birthday, and heard horrible news on the radio. Pearl Harbor had been attacked. World War II had started for us.

The war years were full ones for my grandma and her family. Work was hard to come by. I remember grandma saying that grandpa worked for the WPA for a time but I am not sure now of the dates. When grandpa got a job in Sidney (in Shelby County, Ohio) working in a machine factory where they made tools for the war the family moved to Sidney and lived there for about three years (c1942-1945.) I recently discovered that Grandma's brother Ralph Garrard had also moved to Sidney, something that grandma never told me. I wonder whether Ralph had moved there first and secured my grandfather a position, or was it the other way around? I don't know. Nevertheless, when grandma's mother Louisa died in a old folk's facility in Alton IL in 1944, grandma and her brother were in Sidney.

Grandma and grandpa and their two children moved back to Robinson and settled once more in the old home place. The next ten years saw them raise their children and see Martha get married to her sweetheart Oral in June of 1953. By the beginning of 1955 my dad was attending his first year of high school and his sister Martha was pregnant with her first child.

Things couldn't have been sweeter for grandma and grandpa, but then tragedy struck again. Martha gave birth to her son in August of 1955 but began to have complications almost immediately. Grandma told me that the doctors let her lay there instead of attending her. She was slowly hemorraging; she developed an infection that caused puerperal fever and she hemorraged to death three days after her son was born. She was 20 years old.

Martha's death devastated my grandparents. I never got the chance to ask my grandfather about it because he'd passed away before I began my genealogical quest in earnest, but I know how deeply Martha's death affected my grandmother. The journal entries and notes that I have from her during this time period reveal that. I've often looked at the picture to the left (which I believe was taken just around the time of Martha Ann's death) and studied the tired, drawn looks that both my grandparents are wearing. They look like all the joy in them had been sucked away. As a mother myself to a daughter very close to Martha's age, I cannot imagine. Well, take that back. I can imagine, and even that makes my stomach clench and my throat tighten up. I'd rather not imagine, much less experience.

Even now, though I never actually knew my Aunt Martha Ann, I feel as if I have because she's always been a part of my life. Grandma's cedar chest holds mementos of her life. Martha's high school diploma, a pair of glasses she wore, pictures and a compact mirror she kept in her purse, pieces of her writings, old report cards....the list goes on. I have seen Martha's image so many times and heard her spoken of so often that her living self feels ingrained in my sense-memory, as if I've been face to face with her in the real world. Does that sound strange? It doesn't feel like it, if it matters. My conversations with my grandmother were never without her and I suppose that helped implant her in my head. Besides, Martha Ann's son -- my cousin -- is an absolutely fantastic man and my favorite cousin in the whole wide world. Grandma told me once that his jolly attitude about life reminded her constantly of Martha, so not only do I have her face to look at and my grandmother's memories to bring her to life, but I have a reflection of who she was in her son. My aunt died a decade before I was born, but I had her around anyway.

One last thought before I close for today. I mentioned earlier that life tends to take care of you and give you what you need even when you don't realize that it is. My grandmother wasn't trying, wanting or expecting a second child -- but she got one anyway. I have often wondered if my dad came along because life knew that my grandmother would need that extra child, and not just in the wake of her daughter's death. My dad took care of his parents during their winter years and my grandmother lived with them in the last years of her life. Of course I'm glad they had him because neither I nor my own daughter would exist without it! But if they hadn't had him and Martha had died? They would have truly been all alone. I'm glad it didn't end up that way.

Next time I'll wrap it all up.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt. 4 -- Marriage and Her First Child

Grandpa and Grandma were married by the Rev. Elmer Smith on Wednesday, the 3rd of January 1934, in Knox County (Vincennes), Indiana. Grandma told me that her best friend Gwendolyn Norton and her brother Ralph were the witnesses. They all climbed into a car and puttered over to Vincennes. I once asked grandma if it was snowing that day and she said that it had been earlier in the day and so it took the four of them a while to make it there.

Grandpa didn't have much money but he did get Grandma a simple tiny silver band. I have this band in my possession now and it is indeed a tiny thing -- my pudgy German fingers certainly can't wear it! -- and nearly worn through with age. I can't wear it because although my grandmother and I are just about the same size (she was about 4'10" and I am only 5'0") I inherited my mother's German body type more than my grandma's delicate French bone structure. Oh, I see my grandmother when I look at my arms, and my mother says that I walk like she did, but for the most part I've taken on the thicker and rounder barrel look of the German woman, hah! Anyway, I love feeling grandma's wedding band in my fingers. It's such a delicate piece. I can't look at it, ever, without picturing it in its proper place on grandma's hand.

Grandma and grandpa settled on the "old home place" once they married. This land had been inherited by my grandfather and his brothers Roy and Emerson from their aunt Missouri when she passed away in 1931. The land was originally 40 acres (the SE 1/4 of S2, T6N, R2W) and has been in my family since 7 Nov 1831, when my 4th-g-grandfather John Nichols purchased the land from Wilson Lagow. John's son Joseph purchased another 220 acres but bought and sold and by the 1930's the land had whittled down to 120 acres that Joseph deeded to his daughter Missouri Ann. Upon her death Missouri's land was split three ways. Grandma told me she encouraged Grandpa to buy the land instead of letting his brothers sell it away so he went ahead and bought it.

My aunt Martha Ann was born at the house on 16 October 1934. When I was first gathering all my genealogy data I remember writing down Aunt Martha's date of birth and doing some quick calculating. I then glanced over at grandma and pointed out to her that there was barely nine months between Martha Ann's birth and the date of their marriage, all the while giving her a rather knowing grin. She snorted with amusement and said, rather indignantly, "I had nine days of grace!" That sure did make me laugh!

So grandma and grandpa had their daughter Martha Ann within the first year of their marriage and boy, was she ever the apple of their eye. Since they'd waited until their 30's to get married childbirth wasn't something that grandma had planned to do a lot of. I remember her saying once that Martha's birth was a difficult one and that she'd almost died. The experience, she said, had the effect of making her very wary of having more children.

I have a few pictures of the family at that time and I've posted a few here. The first (to the left, above) was taken about 1938 and shows my grandpa proudly holding his little girl. I love this picture of my grandfather, I think he's a very handsome man. There's something William Holden-ish about him in this picture!

The second picture was taken about 1940 and shows the whole family. I think it's safe to say that grandma was pregnant again in this shot but it's fun to speculate whether she even knew it. She sure does look happy though!

True to her word, grandma did not seek to have any more children after Martha was born and she didn't get pregnant for years thereafter. I never asked her if she was intentionally careful, if she just got lucky, or if moving into her late 30's had anything to do with it. Having had a brush with death myself during an operation (and a difficult birth with my own daughter) I can certainly relate to my grandma's fears and hesitations. Giving birth wasn't a walk in the park for anyone at that time and apparently grandma wasn't really built for it. She was lucky to have survived Martha's birth (and especially my father's, but that story will come later.)

Of course grandma did get pregnant again with my father at the age of 40. This pregnancy was one of those so-called 'change of life' babies. It was ironic that this happened to her because my grandma's mother was 40 when she gave birth to my grandma. Like mother, like daughter? My aunt Martha was six when my grandmother learned that she was pregnant with my father and almost seven when he was born.

His birth and their life after that next time!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt. 3 -- In Letters

My grandmother and grandfather met in 1927. I've spoken in earlier blog posts about their courtship and I repeat the significant paragraph of that here for the sake of continuity:

"My grandparents weren't common for the times. Instead of marrying early as so many others did, they were an 'older' couple; they didn't begin dating until 1927 (when Grandma was 26) and didn't marry until 1934. The Depression began in 1929 and my grandfather was the sole means of support for his grandma (Eliza Ursula (Nichols) Swan) and great auntie (Ursula's sister, Missouri Ann Nichols, who never married.) Times were tough all over. Grandma and grandpa decided to "wait it out." Wait it out they did, though by 1933 grandpa's idea of waiting was apparently much different than grandma's! Grandma told me she said to grandpa one evening, "Virgil, I reckon if I let you, you'll wait forever, and I don't aim to wait much longer. I'm not a young woman and if we don't get on and get married, I'll have to be moving along." They got married a few months later!"

The details of their courtship are largely gone with grandma now. I asked her a couple of things about her and grandpa but the one thing I never did ask was precisely how they met. I wish I had. Maybe they didn't 'meet' so much as just knew each other since both were from the same small rural community. I guess I'll never know now, unless my father does. What I can put together, though, is a snippet of the timeline for the progression of their courtship. I have a set of letters that grandma saved, letters that grandpa wrote to her during the years before they finally married in January of 1934. These letters definitely show how their relationship progressed.

The first letter was written by my grandfather Virgil Joseph Browning in July of 1928. Grandpa wrote it to grandma because she and her friends Hope and Elmer Rich had decided to go 'south.' Grandma told me of this trip a few times over the course of her talks with me and luckily during my recent searches I found a four-page 'trip diary' that she'd written during the trip on notebook paper. She and her friends traveled to Asher, Oklahoma from Robinson, IL -- a trip of about 700 miles. They left on 28 Jun 1928 and returned on 14 July 1928 and each leg of the trip took them almost three days by car each way. The car? - a 1926 Model T Tudor!

Grandpa wrote grandma the following letter:

Robinson, Ill 7/28 My Dear Beulah, I recieved your letter Thursday eve. Say Miss you are having a fine time I bet. Oh it is hot here to day too hot to go in the sun very near. I went to a party last night at Russelville had a pretty good time to Lots of girls ha ha Well how are you kid don't let the Indians get you, no danger what? I went to Gordon last Sund. night in stead of to your church. Frank told me you people had gone south Sat. night. I hope this letter gets ther before you leave Asher I think it will. We had some Ice cream yesterday here at home it sure was good cant you taste it, Banana flaver too. Well I hope you have a good time while there and good luck on the road back. I must close and go to work so I can go to town to night. Hoping to see you soon, write if you can. Your Friend Virgil

I find this first letter interesting. Grandpa meant enough to her at the time for her to save the letter but there isn't much in its tone to suggest how far their relationship had progressed from simply liking each other to going steady. I don't know how long they'd been seeing each other at this time....6 months? 8 months? But it was long enough for him to write her a letter and send it all the way to Oklahoma!

The second set of letters I have was written on the 27th and the 29th of September 1929. Grandpa was taking a trip down to Tulsa. He wrote from Joplin MO on the 27th and from Shawnee OK on the 29th. Grandpa mentions his uncle in the letter of the 29th and he is referring to Finley Duncan, who was married to Ida May Browning. Ida was my great-grandfather Frederick Leone Browning's sister. The Duncans lived in Tulsa from 1920-1930, at least.

Joplin Mo Friday 27 Dearest Beulah I will write you a few lines and tell you the trip I just got through fixing a tire had a tack in it fixed one yesterd cut on glass say there is some hills in around Rolla kid I wish you had been along I am writing from a camp haven't started yet on my way bout 150 miles to go yet There sure is some real places to hunt and fish down here I saw 3 squirrel just about 5 minutes ago I hope I don't have any more trouble. dear dont get sick or hurt and dont cry much for me, ha ha. I know you won't though well sweet heart I spec I better close and go on well be yourself and keep sweet for I love you. Virgil I will write you from Tulsa or where ever I am at.


Sept 29, 1929 Dearst Beulah Well dear girl I will write you a little letter. I am at Shawnee, Okla now it is time to go to bed but I am a night hawk you know Well I never had any more trouble but the two flat tires. I got in the city of Tulsa the night after I wrote you and to Roy Sat evening. did you thing I had forgot to write. Well how are you all by now I am kind of lonesome tonight for you dear but you are 700 miles away. We will start home this week some time it may be Sunday night or later or before I get home. I went to the show with my uncle in Tulsa a good show It was good. The folks are kiding me about my red head girl ha ha. Well red head you are my girl let them kid me I don't care sweetheart do you Well kid don't get lonesome. I don't like this red dirt ore this country very well part of it is prect good the rest is worse. Well sweet girl I must close I ges and go to bed I am sort of tired out. Look for me when you see me girl of mine I am lonsome for you. XXoo XXoo Virgil I may drop you a card on the way

It had now been about a year and a half since the two of them had begun dating. It was likely quite serious by this time and you can definitely tell this by the tone in grandpa's letters. He tells her in the first one that he loves her -- the first time he's said that in any of the letters so far.

I also love how he mentions that my grandmother was a redhead! I know that her uncle Finn Eagleton was a redhead, and my dad was, and my brother and I am, and now my own daughter. I never saw my grandmother with red hair because there aren't any existing color photos of her with it (though the one taken in 1927 at the top of this post is the closest I've seen, I can imagine a burnished copper or auburn!) and she was in her 70s before I can even remember her. By that time her hair was the most gorgeous fine-spun silver. I can only hope my hair goes the same way!

A month before the writing of this next letter, in May of 1930, my grandparents posed for a picture on the steps of a local house. You can see it to the left.

June of 1930 is the next letter that I have. Grandpa had been carted away by a few friends of his to Russellville to shuck corn and apparently hadn't had time to let grandma know. He made sure to send her a letter! The tone of this one is warm and loving and his pet names and loving thoughts for her are clear.

Vincennes or Russelville. June 23/30 Dear Sweetheart. Well are you peived at me for coming away so long or not I left on short notice {Paul?}and Roy Cohourn the man I have been shooking wheat for came after me. I told the folks to let you know did they I am going to stay till sat I ges Roy's brother wants me to shok for him to when I get through here I'll get throu tomorrow I ges. say it has been lonesome here for me I wanted to come home sat night but could not did not have any way I wanted to see you little woman the worst kind. was you lone some for me I bet you was. well if you see any of my people tell them when I think I will be there. It has been awful hot the last todays has it not. say dearest girl have you had your wenine [weinie] roast yet. I bet I will lose out on it say it is warm enough to get that new bathing suit wet isn't it the water is fine for it tried it the other day did not get any bathing suit wet either. ha ha. I went to Vincennes sat night with the folks here sure a big crows there. well do not cry or fret or sigh for you know I will be home some of these days to see you and hold your dear sweet self in my arms dear girl I love you. by Virgil

We are now smack dab in Depression times. I asked grandma many times about this era of her life and she would always tell me a story or two about it. I don't remember all of them -- to my deep chagrin -- but I do remember that grandma told me once that she remembered a fellow coming up her parent's driveway one evening around 1930 begging for the opportunity to do any labor there was to do for nothing more than a good meal. She said she went inside and fixed the man a supper of fried potatoes and eggs (the only thing she really had readily available) and that he did some work around the farm in return.

Grandma often said that although times were hard for she and her family she also felt lucky that in her rural farming community it didn't make as much of an impact upon her as it did in more urban areas. She still raised crops and canned and pickled and fed herself. It was harder to make money and to buy commodities. She made do and stretched foodstuffs, clothing and household products as far as she could. This sort of stretching made an impact on her for her entire life, though I don't think it was just a result of the Great Depression and more because she had been taught thrift since she was old enough to walk. I would smile to myself in my 20s when I saw her carefully wash and wipe aluminum foil clean and fold it up and tuck it into a paper bag reserved for the purpose. She'd do the same to plastic bags. Nothing was disposable to her the first time around. I smile thinking about that now but for a different reason than I did back then. Then it was because I marveled at what I thought was a time waster -- why do that when you could just throw them away and buy more, it's what they were made for! Now I smile because it reminds me of my own naivety and because I reflect on how wasteful I am myself.

At the time of the letters so far (1927-1930) my grandfather and his younger brother Emerson were living with and taking care of their grandmother Ursula and their Auntie Zura (Missouri.) Emerson was a carpenter and fixed things around town and grandpa worked hard to provide for them. He went wherever he could find work, which sometimes meant he'd hitch a ride with some friends and go shuck corn or bring in other crops as needed. He was a mechanic and a farmer his whole life. In 1930 he was 28 years old.

In February 1931 his grandmother Ursula died and that left him responsible for only his aunt Missouri. Now at some point between June of 1930 and the date of the next letter in December of 1932 my grandfather had finally proposed to my grandmother:

Brocton Ill Dec 7/32 Dearest Wife to be. I will drop you a few lines to let you know how I am I am all ok it Rained a big rain last night thunder and lightning a regular summer storm. we did not work yesterday or to day. We will in the morning. will be home sat night Frank said he thought so. We won't get done by then though well sweet I will see you then and get to take my sweet girl in my arms and look deep in your sweet eyes for you know that is the most wonderful thing, to know you are my one and only I love you kid and am proud of you. Well Frank is going to town so I will go and mail this By By dear Pal I'll see you. Virgil

This letter is postmarked Brocton, which is a small town in Edgar County, IL. It looks like grandpa was there doing some work with a man named Frank. I don't know who this man is. He might be a relative but if so I haven't narrowed it down yet.

Anyway, grandma told me that she was frustrated at grandpa for not marrying her sooner and said that he told her that he didn't want to marry her yet because it was too difficult for him to try to support her as well as his aged grandmother and auntie. By 1932, though, his grandmother had passed away and half of his excuse for not marrying had been laid aside. Grandma said she didn't really see the difficulty in having her around the house and said she would have been happy to help him provide and care for his aunt but that's not how things seemed to be working out. Grandpa, she said, was the sort of man to put things off as long as he could and that she would have to prod him at certain points during their many years together. I don't have any doubts about the truth of this statement! My grandpa was a man slow to do much anything and just went about life at his own pace for sure.

The last letter I have in my collection is dated June 1933 and addressed to her on S. Irving St., Chicago, IL. I did a doubletake at that for a while, trying to figure out why grandma would have been in Chicago (was she living there?) and then finally remembered! Grandma had mentioned a few times that she'd travelled to Chicago to visit the World's Fair and when I started doing some research I realized she'd attended the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, the one they called A Century of Progress International Exposition. I guess this letter was one grandpa sent her in reply to a letter she'd sent him upon her arrival in the Windy City. The World's Fair was an incredible thing for its time and I bet my grandma saw many wondrous things.

June/8/33 Robinson Ill. Dear Beulah. I received your letter and was surprised some. I'll say, I tould you I might not come wed nite soo I didn't and was going Thru. but the letter beat me to it. Well I hope you have a good time and see lots of sites while you are there. I have been plowing and planting corn when I could it is been so hot you could not hardly keep the horses going. Mr. Collins [william Collins, next door neighbor] killed one of his horses today some body said, got it to hot. Well I am tired to night honey so I ges I will close this scribble. Well have a good time and don't get hurt or run over cause you know I want to see you again. I would have liked to went along but I was broke. well by by I will see you Wed night maby. as ever yours lots of love and kisses xoox Virgil P.S. I love you

Three months later in September of 1933 grandpa would lose his Auntie Missouri. I suspect that it was about this time that grandma finally let grandpa know that she wasn't going to wait about much longer since she was almost 33 and had been his fiancee for about a year by this point. I know that she was serious -- she told me many times she made it clear she was -- and within a few months grandpa had taken her across the Indiana border to Vincennes on a cold 3rd of January 1934 and made her his bride.

Next time....their married lives and their family.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Due to unforeseen technical difficulties (i.e., my computer) my postings will be placed on hold until said difficulties can be resolved.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt 2.

I continue today with the story -- only the roughest of edges, for how can I ever hope to fully tell the story of a woman who saw over 100 years? -- of what I know of the life of my grandmother, Beulah Ethel (Garrard) Browning.

I was thinking about this all day at work and began to remember things that I'd forgotten, small vignettes my grandma shared over the course of our closest years. She loved that I asked about her life and she loved sharing those memories; her eyes would light up and her normally soft voice would grow stronger. I think it was because she had lived so long. She told me once, in response to a question I had about how long she'd lived, that she sometimes disliked it because she'd had to watch everyone she knew and loved as a girl, a young woman, a friend, a mother and a wife -- die. She had strong faith in God, though, and would tell me she believed that God had His purpose for giving her years and she was not one to question His wisdom. As I said in my last entry, I am so very glad those years were hers and mine.

But back to her story and some of the things I remembered.

I own her cedar chest. The chest was given to her in 1932 by her then-beau and later husband, my grandfather Virgil Joseph Browning. In it she kept mementos of her life and I scurried back to open it and look through some of those while telling her story. I believe the things in that chest all meant enough to her to keep them and I will try to tell the stories of as many of those items as I can. Here are some of them.

This picture is of a tea set that Mrs. Mary Hoke presented to my grandmother as a Christmas present in 1909. This tea set is so delicate and tiny! Each little cup is the size of my thumb. I remember grandma saying she adored that set and played with it often, being very mindful to wrap each item carefully when she was finished playing with it. Until today, when I went to take this picture, I had never seen it unwrapped myself. The entire set has always been stored in a wooden matchbox holder and wrapped in tissue. Accompanying the set is a small handwritten note detailing when she received it and by whom. When I unwrapped if for this picture I found, however, that one little saucer is missing. That's too bad! Otherwise it's a beautiful little set and I can see my grandma playing with it and valuing it for its delicacy.

So grandma's school years came and went. When she was 16, in 1917, her older brother Raymond Orlond Garrard went off to France to serve in World War I. The picture here was taken that year and shows her in a gorgeous white dress. I think she looks young and fresh and splendid, don't you? She wrote Raymond letters and wrote other servicemen as well. I used those letters to trace one of the serviceman she wrote and I managed to get those letters back to his descendants! I've told grandma's story about those times before here on my blog and if you're interested (including seeing a picture of her wearing her brother's uniform!) you can go here and also here.

Another interesting item is a tiny Methodist Episcopal Hymnal. Copyrighted 1850 Cincinnati and published by Swormstedt & Power, Corner of Main and Eighth-Sts, R.P. Thompson, Printer," the front page of this book (in my grandmother's handwriting) says "Presented to Beulah Garrard by Auntie Allison, aged about 89 years this Sept 29, 1920, been in her possession for at least 65 years." This book also has, in another person's handwriting, the name "Mary Jane Willson." I found a Mary Allison, aged 90 in the 1920 census, living in Crawford County. I'm pretty sure she's the "Auntie Allison" that my grandmother received the hymnal from. More research necessary!

By the time she was 22 in 1923 she and her best girlfriend Gwendolyn Norton (who later married a Hackett) decided they needed to go to Olney in Richland County, Illinois, and work at a shoe factory. They boarded with the parents of a Mr. Eska Russell while working there because, grandma said, it wasn't proper for two young women to be on their own! In the picture here she is holding her hat and looks for all the world like a girl home to visit from making her own way. She worked there for a year or so, boarding with two separate families -- the Russells, parents of Eska Russell, and the Routsons -- before coming home sometime in the fall of 1925. I know this because another item in the chest was a unique cup that my grandmother called a moustache cup. She gave it to her father Robert as a christmas present in 1925. She couldn't find one to buy so she obtained it from Mrs. Routson, according to the notes I took.

Between 1924-1926 my grandmother was seeing a boy named Cecil Buchanan. I have quite a few letters from him to her and whenever she mentioned his name she said it in a way that told me that he was a special boy to her at the time. (Update:  Cecil ended up to be Cecile, one of her best GIRL friends!  Go read the funny story about how I learned that little fact.) But somewhere in there they broke up and my grandmother met another boy, one named Virgil.

Next time....her life after meeting my grandfather.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Grandmother's Life, Pt. 1

Today is a celebration of a life.

My grandmother, Beulah Ethel (Garrard) Browning, died 8 years ago yesterday. If she were living she would be almost 110 years old.

My thoughts today have been all about her and I wanted to spend this day with her, in thought and spirit if not in body, so I've spent the day scanning in photos of her from the vast collection of old photos she bequeathed me upon her death. During the scanning I was struck by the thought that she was literally growing up in front of my eyes even though she did that growing up 100 years ago.

I don't know if I've ever shared how I got started in genealogy. In 1988/early 1989 my grandfather Virgil Joseph Browning was diagnosed with leukemia and my father quit his job and moved to the small town my grandparents were living in (the same town, it so happens, that I was also living in.) At that time I was in my early 20's and had just begun to date the man who was to become my (now ex-) husband. I was in college and had a social life and a job and things to do and the last thing in the world I wanted was to spend time with my grandparents, who were both in their late 80's. In my youthful naivety that sixty year difference was a vast chasm.

My grandpa passed away in December 1989. My dad stayed on for a few months to make sure his mother was all right and went back home (a city an hour away.) His mother -- my grandma Beulah -- had just turned 89 and would now live alone in a little apartment. My parents made it clear that I was responsible for checking on her daily because I only lived a short drive away. I balked at this but I had always been a dutiful daughter so I did as I was told, though I admit I scheduled our visits early in the morning so I could spend as little time as possible there before I could claim I had things to do. Thinking upon this selfishness from my current perspective, I am ashamed. I never once thought how my grandmother felt, being alone in that small apartment she'd shared without the man who had been with her for nearly 60 years. The loneliness she must have endured I can only imagine, but she never shared any of it with me when I visited. Instead she would fix me breakfast -- one fried egg, a piece of toast, a cup of coffee with cream. We would sit at the small two-seat dinette in her tiny kitchen.

I'd watch her putter around making the meal and I would be casting my eyes around the room into the small closet in the corner. I would always see an interesting metal cooler with a Coca-Cola emblem and my natural curiosity would kick in. She'd serve the meal and we'd stare at each other and search for things to talk about. I think that search (and my questions about the contents of the metal cooler -- family pictures) was what spurred my grandmother into telling me stories of her parents, her grandparents, the people she'd known, the places she'd seen. Her life. And because she told those stories and shared her life, she showed me that she wasn't just some old lady on the periphery of my life. She was real, and interesting, and she had lived. We were family. It didn't take long before I didn't come to visit her and sit there thinking about how fast I could politely leave. I came because I enjoyed her and my time with her.

She was 89 then. She lived until she was 101 and only the last six months of her life were not quality ones. At her 100th birthday party she was laughing and enjoying herself. A stroke soon thereafter took her away from us and it was downhill from there. She died today, eight years ago.

I cannot express how lucky I feel that I was able to have my grandmother for those years. If those years were given to her in part so that she and I could have the chance to become as close as we did then I can only be humbled in gratitude for them. I wouldn't be the genealogist I am today without her. I wouldn't be the woman I am today without her.

I have regrets concerning her. Of course I do. I regret that I didn't ask her to write her life story for me when she was living with my parents and had the time to do it. She told me many stories but I didn't write all of them down and my memory is good but not nearly as sharp as hers was. I don't think I can celebrate her life and what she meant and means to me still if I don't get those stories down. Her stories -- all the stories I know -- are coming up.

We begin at the beginning. My grandmother, Beulah Ethel Garrard, was born on 9 December 1900 in Robinson Twn. in Crawford County, Illinois, the 6th and youngest child born to Robert Elbert Garrard (1853-1938) and Louisa Adaline Eagleton (1860-1944.) When grandma was born her dad put her in a shoebox in the bottom drawer of a bureau and moved it closer to the fire so the reflection of the heat would keep her warm. She was only two and a half pounds at birth and he could cradle her in the palm of his hand. They didn't expect she'd even live.

Grandma was the youngest and according to her stories, she was rather spoiled and unruly, always wanting her way. All her older siblings said she was that way, anyway, she'd say with a crackling laugh. She was a special favorite of her oldest brother Ralph, who was nine years older than she was. The picture above left -- the one where she's looking mighty unhappy -- was taken one day after school around 1910 (I suspect soon after the picture that follows of she and her schoolmates was taken, since her dresses look very similar and she looks about the same age.) Her older brother Ralph had informed her that she was to come over and get her picture taken and she was distinctly unwilling to do what she'd been told. She said she remembered standing there and pouting while Ralph held her tight around her waist.

Grandma's rememberences of her family were many. She said her sister Julia -- the oldest, born in 1887 - told her once that their mother Louisa had given birth to a stillborn baby of unknown sex about the year 1895. This baby had been as tiny as grandma had but had not lived and Grandpa Robert had went outside and fashioned a box of wood to bury the poor body. It was buried in the backyard or out in the woods and that was that. Julia also told grandma about their little brother Eldridge Garrison Garrard. Eldridge had been born in 1888 with a cleft palate. At the age of two he hit his head on the fireplace and died about two days later in January of 1890. Grandma said her mother Louisa said the family buried him in the Haskins Cemetery but there is no stone for him. Grandma took me out there one day in 1995 and led me to where he was buried. I could find it if I was standing there but I can't describe it to you here.

Her father, Robert, was never a milk drinking man. Grandma said the why of it was never explained to her until she was a young woman. Apparently in November of 1864 the cows that he and his family raised got into milkweed and the entire family unknowingly drank of the poisoned milk. Everyone became ill but Robert's father, William Garrard, was the only one to die. Robert remembered how it felt to be so sick and the idea of milk never set well with him again. Grandma said as long as he lived he never had another glass of milk.

Grandma's mother, Louisa, was raised up in a Christian faith (one that for the life of me I cannot remember) but when a young woman of 18 Louisa took up housekeeping work in the house of a local Quaker family (another whose name I cannot recall) and soon began to practice the faith. Grandma was fond of telling me that her mother was a Quaker.

The earliest couple of pictures I have of my grandmother Beulah are either her school pictures or pictures that were taken after school. She told me what school she went to but it is one of those names that I didn't write down and it has escaped my memory. The pictures I have don't list the school's name either. When she began school, she would walk in good weather and ride a horse in bad weather. I remember her telling me that she was only able to attend school until the 8th grade, which was about 1915 or so. The picture to the right (click to expand) was taken around 1910 and is likely one of the earliest pictures I have of her.

Grandma told me once that she remembers seeing and hearing her first plane when she was a teenager. She said she saw it go overhead when she was out watching some boys play a rough and tumble field baseball game.

I have another picture of her that is associated with her school years and it was this picture that I've featured at the head of my blog entry. That one was taken the last year she was attending school by a friend of hers as she walked down the road home, her round metal lunchpail swinging in her hand. It was fall 1915 and she was 14, almost 15. That picture -- the look in her eyes, the angularity but softness to her face, her small lips -- reminds me so much of my own daughter. Genetics are amazing. I can picture it in my head now, her friend stopping and calling her name...."Beulah!"....and when she stopped, she got her picture taken against the slowly setting Illinois sun. Isn't my grandma beautiful?

My grandmother's stories are many and this week will be hers. Tomorrow, her years after school.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

At Long Last!

I'm back from a lovely vacation with a few good genealogical finds in hand. I'd have had more if I hadn't come down sick with a migrane on the day I was scheduled to go courthousing/cemetery hunting in IL with my cousins. I did manage to drag my butt over to the courthouse but I could barely concentrate and only got the bare minimum of what I wanted. Hm, I guess this means that I have to go back again. Oh, darn. Hah!

Of those I managed to get, the best by far was a copy of the original marriage license of Samuel J. Browning and Sarah Anne from the Tuscarawas County OH Genealogical Society for a grand total of $.60. I'd been theorizing for years whether she was a Dickinson or a Dickerson. When the Genealogical Society handed it over to me I read it and just started laughing with that laugh of frustration that I am sure all good genealogists know. It was pretty clearly "Dickerson" to me. I didn't see a dot over that "i" no matter how I looked or wanted it to magically appear. Even with this evidence, though, I am still comfortable with the idea that Dickinson was Sarah's surname. After I learned of the fact that George Dickinson included George W. Browning and Effie May Browning, the children of Samuel and Sarah, as heirs of his estate in 1876 in Crawford County I began to feel strongly that this was the most solid of evidence for their relationship. Dickerson and Dickinson sound very alike and a mistake could have been made in the license by the clerk being that both surnames were present in the county at the time. At any rate, take a look at the difference between the original copy I had of the license here and the new one to the left. The difference is pretty substantial. I'd love comments on whether or not any of you all also think I'm right in basing my opinion about Sarah's surname on the will more than the marriage license.

When we finally arrived in Crawford County and I managed to get to the courthouse there (no more hands-on looks at the death and birth records in Crawford County, much to my chagrin -- more on that later though!) I only got two documents -- the death certificate of Richard Jennings (proving that he was indeed the son of William Jennings and Jane Nevitt and making my day! -- more on that great find later too!) and a bit of a dig through the will of George W. Dickinson. I should have copied the entire thing but I was feeling so horrid that it was all I could do to stand there and copy the four pages I did get. The four pages were the guardianship records of John W. and Ella May Browning, children of George W. Browning, deceased.

These four pages, dated 1892, contain an affidavit from Amanda (Raney) Browning Short, who lived in Mt. Vernon, Jefferson Co., IL. Included in the pages was a guardianship paper from Jefferson County showing Amanda was the children's guardian and that she claimed $48 from the estate as the guardian of John and Ella, two of the minor heirs. These papers, more than anything else, tell me the following: John and Ella were George's children, and as George was Samuel and Sarah Anne's son, they were also Sarah Anne's grandchildren. This also tells me -- most importantly -- that Sarah was George Dickinson's daughter and a Dickinson instead of a Dickerson. It also helps that she named two of her children (George and Effie) after her parents.

I love when things come together. More to follow!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday -- Random Thoughts

It's Tombstone Tuesday so this Tuesday I'll feature the stone of my 3rd-g-grandmother, Jane (Nevitt) Browning Jennings, who is buried in the Kirk Cemetery in Crawford County, Illinois. I'll explain why later on in this post.

I'm preparing to embark this week on another long road trip/vacation with my parents and my daughter. We did one of these in 2008 and we're doing it again now although we've added in another destination. First we'll drive up to Coshocton Co., OH to visit my brother and sister-in-law for a few days. The last time we went straight from there to Crawford Co., IL for another few days of R&R with some cousins but this time we'll detour towards Chicago and the little town of Peotone in Will Co., IL before going on to Crawford County. My daughter is excited about this because she's wanted to see Chicago for a while now. She was there once but doesn't remember it -- she was two.

I'm looking forward to it for many reasons, not the least of which is because I'll get the chance to drive from Coshocton County to neighboring Tuscarawas County and stop by the Genealogical Society there. I was there on my last trip but I didn't get the chance to do what I will be able to do this time around. Even though I'm pretty sure now that Samuel J. Browning married Sarah Ann DICKINSON and not Dickerson (having Sarah's father's will name Samuel Browning's children sort of makes the case) I'm having the Society open up their vault of original records so I can make a copy of their original license. The photocopy that I do have from the Tuscarawas County courthouse is horrid, I want a better one, and I'm in the area. It's a no-brainer!

I went poking about in my grandmother's cedar chest the night before last and ended up not getting to bed until after midnight. I opened it up because I'd found some notes I'd thought I'd lost that I'd made about items in the chest years ago. I remember that afternoon. I think it was about 2000. I sat down with grandma and had her tell me where she'd acquired some of her treasures and whether she could tell me any stories about them. Unfortunately I didn't get as many as I should have but I'm grateful for those I have. While in there I found something fantastic! It's a travel diary of sorts written by my grandmother in 1928 on a few sheets of looseleaf paper. It's something she wrote when she traveled to Oklahoma from Illinois in a Model T. I can't wait to transcribe it and get it scanned!

I'm also nearly vibrating with excitement about finding a possible picture of Jane (Nevitt) Browning Jennings, my third great-grandmother! Jane was born in 1819 and married her step-cousin James Browning (Jane's mother Rhoda's second husband was James Browning's mother Margaret Markee's brother -- got that?) in 1839. After James died in 1852 she married William Jennings, an older man from England. They had one son, Richard, born in 1861.

Here's where it gets interesting. I located a Find-A-Grave memorial for Richard and his wife, Mary 'May' (Lackey) Jennings. I read through Richard's memorial and it mentioned an entirely different set of parents for him -- Cyrenus Jennings and an unknown woman.

I contacted the holder of the memorial. She and I have been corresponding the last couple of days, comparing notes, trading stories, looking at proofs. She's known descendants of May's family members and has stories passed down as well as owning this picture I mentioned, and Richard's violin. I'm pretty sure that Richard is William and Jane's son -- for starters I have he and Mary's marriage license and it states his parents were William and Jane. As Cyrenus Jennings was born around 1845 and Richard in 1861 that would mean Cy would only be about 15 or 16 years old at Richard's birth! Possible but unlikely, especially given that his mother would likely be even younger. However, more speculation is useless without proof. I'm hoping we'll get more of it when I get to Robinson and spend the day in the courthouse and pouring over old obituaries in the Robinson Public Library.

If the picture she has (take a look at it here) is indeed Richard's parents, perhaps it's a picture of William Jennings and Jane (Nevitt) Browning instead of Cyrenus Jennings and his wife! So my next question is, of course, what year was this picture taken? It appears the man might be in his late 70s or early 80's and the woman might be in her late 60's or early 70's. I don't know when William died but he was born around 1803. Jane was born in 1819 and died in 1894. The handwriting is May's and says it's "Dick's parents." However, when was that written? Did May know William at all? And what about Jane? Jane died a year before May and Richard were married.

So okay, the photographer then. The photographer is Isaac W. Mitchell. I looked him up in the census and found that he was a house carpenter in 1880, living next door to a Bussard (who, while not a photographer, was likely a relative of the Bussards that were.) However by 1900 Isaac is in Oblong and is listed as a "Cooper and Photographer." By 1910, however, Isaac is listed again as only a house carpenter. Hm. Is it safe to infer that this picture was definitely taken after 1880 but before 1910? Argh! So many questions. More research is needed!

I've been thinking a lot about my great-great-grandfather Joseph Browning lately (Jane's son and possibly Richard's half-brother.) I was curious about what happened to the boy that accidentally killed him.

Miles Hughes, the son of James Hughes, was 18 in June of 1916 when he accidentally struck Joseph on his bike in downtown Palestine, Illinois. Joseph turned to avoid a puddle and caught the front bumper of Miles' car. All the witnesses said it was an accident and noted that Miles was going quite slow and that he couldn't have avoided it. There's a line in the paper about the accident that says, "It was one of those deplorable accidents which often occur and in which neither party is to blame." Living in today's world, that's remarkable isn't it? These days that boy would be charged with vehicular manslaughter or something like that and probably served with a civil lawuit as well. Honestly, it was just an accident. Sometimes that is all it is. In this regard, times really were simpler then.

Miles Fife Hughes, son of James Hughes and Mattie Fife, was born c1898. James and Mattie were married on 5 Aug 1891 in Crawford County. I know that Miles was living on Main Street in LaMotte Township in Crawford County in 1920 with his mother, who was widowed by that time. In 1930 he was still living with his mother on 410 Main St. in Palestine. I don't find any record that Miles ever married. I believe Mattie died in Dec 1935 (the online death record says 1925 but I think that's in error) and Miles himself died in Danville Twn. in Vermillion County, Illinois, on 31 Aug 1940. He was only 42 years old.

I wonder what Miles felt like going through life knowing he'd accidentally killed an old man? I know that it would haunt me even if there hadn't been any way for me to prevent it from happening. Well, if it helps, Miles, wherever you wasn't your fault.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More On Asbury Taylor and Minerva (Corderman) Browning

I've been contacted by/have contacted a few new cousins this past week. Coincidentally, all of them are connected to the same Browning and even more coincidentally, it was the Browning I wrote about most recently -- Asbury Taylor Browning, the ninth child of Samuel and Margaret! Taylor died of smallpox in the Civil War but he had three children (Charles Otho, Sarah Viola, and Emma Ellsworth) who lived to have descendents. I'm currently corresponding with a descendant of Taylor's son, Charles. I've been contacted by a descendant of Emma Ellsworth but I've sent two emails so far and I haven't heard back from her. I sent yet another email to a man who I believe is descended from Sarah Viola. If I'm lucky I'll hear back from everyone soon.

Speaking of Asbury Taylor, I've also been thrilled to discover that a historian named Rhonda M. Kohl has been researching the Regiment that Taylor belonged to in the war, the 5th Illinois Cavalry. She's written the following scholarly articles about the regiment:

Kohl, Rhonda M. "'This Godforsaken Town': Death and Disease at Helena, Arkansas, 1862-63." Civil War History, 50, no. 2 (June 2004): 109-144.

Kohl, Rhonda M. "The Hard Lessons of War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry at Helena, Arkansas." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 99, no. 3-4 (fall-winter, 2006-07): 185-210.

Unfortunately I don't belong to the IL State Historical Society so I haven't been able to read either of these. I sent an email to Ms.Kohl inquiring about Taylor and where he might possibly have been buried if he'd died in a hospital in Helena. Ms. Kohl kindly and quickly sent a response and gave me a few suggestions. She said many soldiers were buried on hills overlooking Helena, each was given their own grave and honored with crosses listing their name and unit. She said there was embalming at the time and Taylor's body may have been shipped back to IL (though if it was, I haven't found a gravesite for him.) She also suggested that I may want to contact the Phillips County Historical Society. I hope to follow up on some of her leads. Ms. Kohl is also in the final stages of submitting a book about the Regiment to her publisher. I'll be sure to obtain a copy when it's released.

Since this post is all about Asbury Taylor's family I thought I'd post a few photos of his children's tombstones as well as speak about another interesting document that Taylor's widow filed after his death. First things first, though!

The picture to the left is the tombstone of Sarah Viola Browning, Taylor and Minerva's fourth child. Sarah is buried at the Seaney Cemetery in Montgomery Township in Crawford County, Illinois. She sure was an interesting lady. She married four times and might have buried all four of them! She was born on 2 Aug 1859 in Prairie city (now Toledo) in Cumberland County, Illinois. She married Alfred Newton Criss around 1877, probably in Sullivan Co., IN. I don't know what happened to Alfred but Sarah married Daniel H. Ripple on 11 Jul 1886 in Crawford County, Illinois. She and Daniel settled in Crawford County and something happened to Daniel as well for Sarah married William J. Purcell on 2 Apr 1896, also in Crawford County. William and Sarah lived in Honey Creek Township. William died in Feb 1905 and Sarah married Abraham Walters on 24 Nov 1910. Sarah and Abraham lived in Oblong township for many years before Abraham died in 1924.

Sarah was living in Robinson on North Madison St in 1930 with her grandson Harold/Herald Reynolds and she remained in Crawford County until her death on 18 Nov 1942. Now I don't know who Harold's mother is. He says that both his parents were born in Indiana. As I'm quite sure I don't know exactly how many children Sarah had, much less their names (since I'm missing that precious 1890 census!) then Harold's most likely my best link to another daughter of Sarah's who married a Reynolds. I'll be looking Harold up on my upcoming trip to Robinson. Hopefully his marriage to Laura c1929 is in the Crawford County courthouse and he'll give his parent's names!

The next picture is the tombstone of John Abram Pirtle and his wife, Emma Ellsworth Browning. I won't post that one here because the picture was posted by Nynaeve on Find-A-Grave and I would much rather just link straight to her picture. Emma was born on 29 Sept 1862 in Prairie City in Cumberland County. She was only six months old when her father died and likely grew up feeling that Matthew Starbuck (her mother's second husband) was her father. Her mother died in 1873 when she was only 11 years old. I don't know what became of her from that time until 1880 but that year she was in Fox Township in Jasper County, Illinois as a 17-yr old hired domestic in the household of George Barnett. George was Emma's brother Charles and his wife Laura Belle Tritt's next door neighbor. I feel Emma was likely living with Charles and Laura but the census caught her at work.

Living two households down from Emma was a family headed by a man named John Kellar, aged 28, who was married with a 7-month old daughter. John was born in Illinois but both his parents were born in France. John Kellar becomes interesting because Emma had a daughter, Elsie May, in Sullivan County, Indiana on 1 March 1882. When Elsie married James Skidmore in Sullivan County in 1899 she listed her father's last name as Keller and his first initial as either an "L", a "J" or an "S." As Emma didn't marry John Abram Pirtle until 29 May 1884, she was unmarried at the time of Elsie's birth. Could this John Keller have been Elsie's father? Did Emma get pregnant and move to Sullivan County to give birth? Her older sister Sarah was in Sullivan county at the time. It's certainly a possibility. At any rate, John and Emma lived in and around the Oaktown, Knox Co. IN and Carlisle, Sullivan Co., IN area all their lives. They were buried in the Carlisle Odd Fellows Cemetery in Carlisle in Sullivan County.

Rewind a bit again with me as we come back to Asbury and Minerva, Sarah and Emma's parents. After Taylor's death in 1863 Minerva married Matthew James Starbuck and the couple and their children moved to Greenup Township in Cumberland County. You can see Matthew and Minerva's marriage license to the right. What's nice about this document was that it's a copy of the original document that Minerva had provided to prove her marriage to Matthew in her pursuit of guardianship of her children with Taylor. I'm thrilled to have it because Cumberland County's courthouse burned in 1885 and the original document is now lost. But yay, I have a copy of it right here!

Speaking of the pursuit of guardianship -- I'd always found it a bit odd that Minerva needed to pursue a guardianship for her OWN children! All the pension documents she filed in 1863-1867 never mention that she had given guardianship of her children to anyone else; as a matter of fact that state unequivocably that she had not. So why did she file? I turned once again to Bouvier's Law Dictionary and found my answer.

Minerva, as the children's mother, could be considered a 'Guardian By Nuture' but by the late 1850's that distinction was rapidly becoming obsolete. She of course had care of her children, but upon her marriage to Matthew she needed to have the rights to maintain and manage her children's estates as well as their persons; i.e., become their Testamentary Guardian. Now I'm only making an inference here, but it seems that if she'd allowed Matthew to become her children's legal guardian instead of herself, she would've been unable to continue to draw her children's minor's pensions from Asbury's estate. So Minerva filed for guardianship of her children with Asbury on 25 February 1868 under her married name, Minerva Starbuck, and her petition was granted on 29 June 1868.

I also initially found how they worded the guardianship papers odd as well. Take a look at the document over there on the left. Each of the children (Charles, Sarah and Emma) were listed as being "__ years on the __ day of ___", that day being one day before their birthday. For example, Charles was born the 6th of April -- he is listed as being seven years old on the 5th. It was strange to begin with but it's not as odd to me now with a second and third read-through. It makes sense, really. The day mentioned is the last full day each child was legally considered a minor and therefore also the last full day Minerva would hold guardianship over them.

Minerva died in May of 1873. If Matthew filed for any guardianship papers over Emma and Sarah -- who were still minors and still eligible for Asbury's pension payments -- after Minerva's death, those papers were lost in the 1885 Cumberland County courthouse fire.

Friday, July 2, 2010

How To Reconstruct a Family pt. 2 -- Play Detective!

And now for the second installment. I ended the first on a question: What to do next?

Well, I'd researched Amanda as much as I could from 1870-1930 and felt I had a pretty good idea of her life and movements. It was back to the census, armed with a little more knowledge. I decided to pick it up in 1900, the first census that was available after the 1880 when Amanda had been living in Jefferson Co., IL with her children with George Browning, John W. and Ella May.

I searched John W. first since he carried the Browning surname. With a name like John it was still going to be tough so I figured I'd first narrow it to John W. and rule those out first, it'd be easier. I searched with the parameters of his name, his possible birthday (c1874 +/- 1 yr) and birthplace (IL). A few hits came up and I just started going down the list, picking the few that seemed closest to Jefferson Co. first. One was in Franklin County and another in Edgar County but I ruled them both out pretty quickly by comparing birth places and other family living close. Another was in White County and looked promising but his mother was listed as born in Indiana. I kept him in my mind and moved on to the first one on the list that wasn't in Illinois -- John W. and Lydia A. Browning, who lived in St. James, Mississippi Co., MO.

I looked on the map and saw that Mississippi Co. bordered Alexander Co., IL and was separated from it by the Mississippi river. It was only a few counties away from Jefferson County. Hm. John W. was b. Sept 1874 in IL, both his parents had been born in IL, he and Lydia had been married four years, Lydia was born in Aug 1876 in KY, and the couple had two sons, William B. b. Oct 1896 and Jesse R. b. Nov 1899, both born in MO.

This sounded interesting! But I knew that I needed more information to rule the family in or out. I noticed that William was born in 1896 and would've had to register for the WW1 draft if he'd lived that long. I went to Ancestry, searched the WW1 Draft Registration database for a William B. born 1896 in MO (using exact search on the birthdate) and got a hit for William Bennet Browning. I got really excited reading through it! Dated 5 Jun 1918, it stated that he was born 5 Oct 1896 in East Prairie, Mississippi Co. MO. His father was born in Mt. Vernon, IL and the relative he listed was Lydia Browning who was living in Medina, Madison Co., TN.

Mount Vernon! That's in Jefferson County! That told me that the John W. Browning who'd been in the 1900 census was William's father AND it told me he'd been born in Jefferson Co., IL. The date AND the place matched the John W., son of George Browning and Amanda Raney! Whooo! I had a gut feeling that this was the right family so I began to do a bit more in-depth research on them.

I returned to the census records from 1910-1930 and reconstructed the family's movements:

3 May 1910 Wolf Island, Mississippi Co MO, ED 104, Sh 1A, image 1, HH 2, line 7
McDADE, J.B. age 46 c1865, m. 4 yrs, b. TN, fb IRE, mb, TN
McDADE, S. C. age 45 c1866, m. 4 yrs., b. MO, fb AL, mb TN
BROWNING, Liddy (sister) age 32 c1878, widowed 3 ch, 3 liv, b. KY, fb IRE, mb TN
BROWNING, Bennett (son) age 13 c1897, b. MO, fb IL, mb, KY
BROWNING, Roy age 11 c1899
BROWNING, Lee age 2 c1908
POLESTON?, D.N.(or G. N?), father in law, age 76, wid, b. AL, pb AL

1920 Wolf Island, Mississippi Co, MO; ED 116, Sh 8A, HH 143, line 6, Image 1105
BROWNING, Lydia age 44 b. KY, fb KY, mb TN
BROWNING, Bennie age 23 b.MO fb IL, mb KY
BROWNING, Ray age 19 b.MO fb IL, mb KY clerking at store
BROWNING, Lee age 18 b.MO fb IL, mb KY

Ah, the 1910 census shows Lydia living with her brother J.B. McDade so I used that last name and did a search in both available Missouri marriages databases on Ancestry. The first (Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002) wasn't at all helpful but the second (Missouri Marriages, 1851-1900) was! I located her marriage to John:

John W Browning m. Lydia A. McDade in Mississippi Co., MO on 16 Oct 1895

I went to go perform one last census search. I remembered that Lydia had mentioned her parents had come from Tennessee and I noticed that she and her son William were there in 1918 when he registered for the draft. I thought I needed to go look for McDade families in the state. I found the right family in the 1880 Madison Co TN census in the 16th Dist. Liddie A., aged 2, was living with her sisters and brothers: Margaret age 21, John L. age 19, William age 18, Jesse aged 15, Susan age 12, and Bennett J. age 7. Bennett and Liddie were born in KY and the rest were born in TN. I felt it very likely that this was the correct family. Liddie had named two of her sons Jesse and William Bennett.

I now had quite of bit of information on the family. John W. and Lydia A. McDade had married in 1895 and lived in Mississippi Co., MO from Oct 1895 until June 1900. They had three sons (William Bennett, Jessie Ray/Roy, and Lee) from 1896-1902 and somewhere between 1902-1910 John W. died and Lydia moved in with her brother and sister-in-law. Lydia and her son William were apparently living in Madison Co., TN in 1918 but they were back in Mississippi Co., MO by 1920. I couldn't seem to find Lydia or her sons William or Jesse in 1930 but I did find Lee. He was married and still living in Mississippi Co.

So what next? I'd pretty much covered marriages and the census. Ah, ha! The next link in the earthly chain.....death records!

I went to Family Search Beta and did a search in the Missouri Deaths and Burials, 1867-1976 collection for John with no results. Since John's death was early and likely not recorded, I then decided to try all Browning names. Only 11 appeared, none of whom matched.

All right, hm.....well, William had mentioned Tennessee. I decided to try the family names in the Tennessee Deaths and Burials, 1874-1955 collection. I tried Lydia first and got a hit! Lydia died in Medina, Gibson Co., TN, on 28 Nov 1942 at age 66. She was born in 1876 and was listed as married. Her spouse's name was John Wylie Browning. Her parents were listed as Bennett Mcdaid and Susie Davidson.

I tried William with no results, then tried Jesse and got another hit. Jesse Ray Browning died on 5 Feb 1922 and was buried on 6 Feb 1922. He died in Medina, Madison County, Tennessee at age 21. He was born 28 Nov 1900 in MO and was single. His father's Name was Wiley Browning, born IL, and his mother's name was Liddia Mcdade, born in KY.

These two records told me John's middle name -- Wiley -- and the death dates of his wife and son. I turned to the SS Death Index at Rootsweb and found William Bennett Browning. He'd died on 17 Nov 1966 in Humboldt in Gibson County, Tennessee. I took a quick trip back to the USGenWeb site for Tennessee counties and a search in Gibson County for his name in the cemetery listings gave me the following: William B. Browning, d. 17 Nov 1966, married Mealie M., b. 28 Oct 1908- 3 Feb 1998. Both were buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Humboldt, Gibson Co., TN. Lastly, I hopped over to Find-A-Grave to look for William's headstone and got lucky again! Some kind soul had taken a picture of William's stone.

Now for a synopsis.

Do I know for sure yet that the John Wylie Browning who married Lydia McDade is the son of George Browning and Amanda Ann Raney? Nope. The circumstantial evidence is pretty good though. I'd have to locate a few different sorts of documents for solid proof. Amanda's will, if she had one, might mention him or his children. And what of John's own death records? If he died c1904-1910 there might be some sort of death record (though it's doubtful it lists parents) but one never knows. He might've had a will that mentioned his parentage. Perhaps there is a funeral record? It appears that writing to Mississippi Co., MO to get what record there are is my next step to solid proof.

Sometimes, though, circumstantial evidence is all you'll have to go on. Build as strong a case as you can for it if that's what you're using. Pay attention to the smallest of hints, such as where a draft registration was processed. Think about the families that cohabited or collaterally touched yours to find leads. Trace each person back to the earliest census you can find them in for clues like who their relatives were because those people, and their movements, might impact your relatives. While I know I'm stating the obvious for most of us genealogists, for the beginners......well, it's just the stuff like this that you miss.

The moral of this story -- think outside the box!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How To Reconstruct a Family pt. 1 -- Playing Detective!

I'm super excited today to have located another branch of my Browning family. This wasn't due to a cousin's random contact but was instead something I painstakingly reconstructed by using all the resources available to me and knowing the family you're working on intimately. All I can say is thank goodness for the Internet!

First, some short background. Samuel J. Browning and his wife, Sarah Ann, have been featured on my blog already. Sam and Sarah had three children -- Effie Emmaline, George and Samuel -- before Sarah died. Samuel then remarried and when he did he married a woman named Julia Ann Dickinson. Was this woman Sarah's cousin? I didn't know. Sarah Ann was a bit of a mystery to me because I could never definitively prove her surname. Dickerson? Dickinson? There were cases for both but eventually the preponderance of evidence placed her as a Dickinson. Go here to read the whys and hows and then come on back!

Back? Now on with the show.

In my earlier post I mentioned a man named George W. Dickinson. I'd theorized that G.W. was perhaps a brother or cousin to the children's mother, Sarah, which was only one of the many reasons I'd initially pegged her as a Dickinson. G.W. became Effie Emmaline (b. 1851) and George (b. c1854) Browning's guardian after the death of their father Samuel in 1862. Their little brother Sam had died a month after his father.

I found Effie Emmaline Browning easily. She'd married John T. Fulling in Crawford County and lived there until her death. George, however....well, I had George in the 1870 census but lost him in the 1880. He was missing until just the other day.

I'd looked at the will of G.W. Dickinson before and it had given me no clues. My ah-ha moment on this came not with G.W. (who d. 1908) but with HIS father, George Dickinson (d. 1876)! The senior George's probate records mentioned two things of significance:

1) heirs were George W. Dickinson, James Dickinson, David Dickinson, Samantha Stiles, Elizabeth Storms, Emaline Browning & minor children of George Browning, Dec'd.

2) one of the signed Receipts is from Manda Short, guardian, who signed for John W. Browning and Ella May Browning, children of George W. Browning (dec'd), Mount Vernon, Jefferson Co, IL.

This told me that as of March 1876, George Browning, the son of Samuel and Sarah, had married a woman named Manda, had two children (John W. and Ella May) and had died. Manda had gone on to marry a man with the last name of Short and the family were living in Mount Vernon! YAY!

I went to the IL Marriage database, where I located the following marriages:
SHORT, ALFRED m. BROWNING, AMANDA 1878-01-24 006/0113 JEFFERSON Manda was Amanda S. Raney!

Next stop, the 1880 census. I'd tried it before, of course but then I'd been looking for George Browning. I didn't realize he'd died and his widow had remarried by then. Oh, he'd had children but I didn't know that or their names either! But now, armed with the knowledge of the surname Short, I found them in Mount Vernon very easily. Amanda was listed as Ann. She was 22, Alfred was 52. They were living with his three youngest from his first marriage, their 10 month old daughter Tampy, and John W. (age 5) and Ella May (age 4) are listed as his stepchildren.

There was no 1890 census so I moved on to the 1900. By then I knew that if both her Browning children had lived it was likely they were both married so I figured first things first, I'd try to follow Amanda for as long as I could and perhaps one or both her children had stuck close by. I found Amanda and Alfred in 1900 still living in Mount Vernon with their children (I made notes of the names of her Short children as well.) I moved on to the 1910 with no luck and thought that Alfred had likely died, leaving Amanda a widow. Perhaps she moved in with one of her children? I looked for all the Shorts with no luck. On to the 1920. I found her in Boone in Boone Co., IA, living with her son Alfred Short. I looked in the 1930 and couldn't find her then either. I did notice, however, that there was no sign of John or Ella. Rats.

So what next? Ah yes, the Jefferson Co., IL USGenweb page! I wanted to see when Alfred had died. I started pouring through the cemetery pages and found that Alfred Short had died in 1904 in the county and was buried in the Atkinson Cemetery. I got really lucky because attached to the notation of his stone was his obituary too! Alfred's obituary said the couple had seven children but the 1900 census said that Amanda had been the mother of 11. So since she'd two with George Browning, that meant she'd had not seven but nine with Alfred Short -- Alfred, Ernest, Homer, Eugene, Ada (could she be the Tampy listed in the 1880 census or are they two separate girls?) Minnie, and two or possibly three others who died before 1904.

It might seem silly to research a family (in this case, the Shorts) that didn't really have anything to do with my Brownings. But it's not silly at all! They were intimately entwined in life and the good researcher doesn't overlook these sorts of things. Besides, in my forays into the census I'd learned quite a bit about Amanda.

She was Amanda Ann (not S. -- likely a mistranscription) Raney, born in IL in Sept 1858. I went back to the 1870 census and found her (Ann, aged 12) living with her parents George Warren Raney and Mary Holaway in Montgomery Twn. in Crawford County. She'd married George three years later in Dec 1873 in Jefferson County. Goodness, she was barely 15, can you imagine? I can't. Anyway, she gave birth to eleven children, had married a man 30 years her senior when she was 20 years old, and by the age of 46 she'd buried two husbands. She didn't marry again after her second husband Alfred died. She lived until at least 1910 and was in Iowa at that time. You know, Amanda sure strikes me as a tough lady!

But what about her Browning kids? I poked around again in the IL Marriage database to look for John or Ella but to no avail. Hmm.....what to do next...

That comes in the second installment!