Barbara Sing, Seng or Sang (1645-1686), Childbirth Claimed Her – 52 Ancestors #364

Barbara Sing, Seng or Sang was born in Endersbach, Germany in 1645 to Hans Sing/Sang and Barbara Eckardt.

She was surely baptized in the church there, but records don’t exist from the period of the Thirty Years’ War.

Endersbach is just a mile and a quarter up the road from Beutelsbach.

There seemed to be a lot of interaction and intermarriage occurring between Beutelsbach and Endersbach families.

It’s interesting that while, according to the local heritage book, her father, Hans Sang was born in Endersbach, Barbara was the only one of her siblings born there.

Her mother, Barbara Eckardt was born in Beutelsbach, so clearly, the couple chose to live there after their marriage.

The fact that only one child was born in Endersbach, and that birth was during the 30 Years War makes me wonder if the family had to seek refuge in Endersbach during that timeframe.

The Beutelsbach records resume in 1646. We find Barbara’s younger sibling born in Beutelsbach on March 6, 1648. It’s possible that Barbara had a sibling born between 1645 and 1648 in Endersbach or elsewhere.

During the war, record-keeping either wasn’t possible or didn’t bubble up to the top of the priority list when simple survival was a struggle. The people had been brutalized by marauding armies and soldiers for, literally, 30 years – more than a generation. Farms, villages, and entire cities were burned, and their fields ruined. Food was scarce and no one was ever safe.

We know that Barbara was raised in Beutelsbach from 1648 forward, so from the time she was about three years old.

Martin Goll, historian and Beutelsbach resident tells us that Barbara was the daughter of Hans Sang who was a butcher and quite wealthy, at least comparatively, after the Thirty Years War.

8 Marktplatz

The Hans Sang home and butcher shop was located at 8 Marktplatz in Beutelsbach which still exists today, adjacent the fortified gate of the Beutelsbach church.

The home of Barbara’s beau and future husband, Hans Lenz, the son of another wealthy merchant was only 100 feet or so distant at Stiftstrasse 17..

The church, of course, was both the center of Beutelsbach and the center of the community. Having a shop near the church assured that parishioners would pass by your door several times a week.

Having the shop right next to the steps of the fortified tower entrance to the church assured that no one would forget to purchase meats. Today, someone would be out front giving samples and coupons to hungry parishioners after Sunday services😊.

In this photo of the church and tower, the building connected to the tower on the right, directly in front of the white automobile, is the Sing home, 8 Marktplatz.

We are fortunate to have a drawing of Beutelsbach from 1760.

The round fortified tower is visible to the right of the road, with the first house attached to that tower being the Sang home, pointed out by the yellow arrow. The Lenz home is the red arrow, as best I can tell.

This postcard from 1916 shows the gate, church, and adjacent buildings as well. I wonder if the drawing was from an earlier era.

Literally, everyone going to church passed by the door of the butcher shop.

Most villages only had one person practicing any profession, so Hans Sang was probably the only game in town anyway. I hope he did the actual butchering elsewhere, or at least not during church services.

Perhaps the good smells from the Lenz bakery a few feet away helped to overcome the odors emanating from the butcher’s shop which would have been attached to their home. Yes indeed, much more desirable to be the baker’s child.


Barbara Sing married Hans Lenz on February 23, 1669, in Beutelsbach, in the church right next to her home.

Sharon Hockensmith took this photo inside the church when she was visiting. I don’t know how much of the interior was the same in 1669, but we can rest assured that the primary structure didn’t change. The choir loft, organ, and windows are likely original.

We don’t know if the custom of the time was to be married in the church proper, or in the adjacent parsonage. Regardless, Barbara and Hans would have attended this church every Sunday during their marriage, except when war, danger, childbirth, or illness interfered.

They probably saw this exact same scene hundreds of times, only with people dressed in clothing of their period.


Barbara’s parents and in-laws were apparently both wealthy, but money can’t buy everything. In fact, it can’t purchase the things we cherish most in life.

Barbara and Hans had 11 children, beginning with their first child who was born in the late fall of 1669.

  • Anna Katharina Lenz was born on November 19, 1669, and married Simon Dendler, a widower from Schnait, on November 30, 1693, in Beutelsbach. However, Martin found no children in the church records. We don’t know what happened to Anna Katharina. They could have moved away and had children elsewhere.
  • Margaretha Lenz was born on January 24, 1671, and died July 13, 1678, in Beutelsbach, only 7 years old.
  • Barbara Lenz was born on March 10, 1672, and died July 11, 1678, two days before her sister, Margaretha. She was 6 years old.

These two sisters passing away two days apart tell us that either there was a communicable illness being passed around, or there was an outbreak of dysentery or something similar. As the only non-infant girls in the family, they probably slept together.

It may not have been a coincidence that the next year, 1679, saw a massive outbreak of plague. We know that malaria was present in Europe in 1678, having arrived on ships from Africa, but Beutelsbach is not a port city. I can’t help but wonder who else in the family was ill, and how many more Beutelsbach residents died in the summer of 1678.

Barbara, four months pregnant at the time, must have been heartbroken, losing her two little girls just two days apart.

  • Johann Georg Lenz was born on February 21, 1674, and died on April 2, 1758, in Beutelsbach of old age at 84. He married Sibilla Muller on February 2, 1698, also in Beutelsbach. After his parents passed away, he and Sibilla lived in the home place, continuing the vinedresser and vintner profession. Unfortunately, Johann George’s back was injured by falling stones. They had 8 children, 3 or 4 of whom lived to adulthood. Johann George and Sibilla are my ancestors.
  • Daniel Lenz was born November 14, 1675, and died November 7, 1758, seven months after his older brother. He married Anna Katharina Lang in 1702 and they had 8 children, 3 of whom lived to adulthood. Daniel was a vintner as well, but was described as having “stupid eyes” which likely meant he was either partially blind or cross-eyed. He did field work, fell down from an apple tree, and nearly died another time from choking on his own blood. Daniel couldn’t read but was an avid churchgoer and seemed to have a good life in spite of having “stupid eyes.”
  • Elisabetha Lenz was born July 27, 1677, and no death or marriage records are found for her, nor are any children’s baptismal records. She likely died young. I wonder if she died in the same outbreak that took her two sisters in July of 1678.
  • Anna Maria Lenz was born December 19, 1678, and died May 5, 1721, in Beutelsbach from a tumor. I’d love to know what kind of a tumor. She married Hans Jakob Bechtel about 1698. He was a baker, then a judge, and eventually, mayor. They had 12 children, 6 of whom lived to adulthood.
  • Johann Jakob Lenz, a vinedresser and vintner, was born April 19, 1680, and died on May 6, 1744, in Beutelsbach of “high-temperature gastric fever” which was probably dysentery, also known as “bloody flux.” He married Anna Katharina Knodler in 1717 in Grunbach. They had 8 children, of which two lived to adulthood. Two others died as young adults before marrying. Their last child was listed as “simple” at his baptism and likely did not survive.
  • Philip Lenz was born on November 2, 1681, and died September 24, 1737, in Beutelsbach at 56 years of age of melancholy. He was a vintner and married Justina Bohringer in 1716. They had 5 children, of whom 2 lived to adulthood and one died as a young adult of heatstroke.
  • Martin Lenz was born November 11, 1683, and died a few days later on November 27th.
  • Barbara Lenz, the last child, probably named for her mother, was born July 2, 1686. She died 25 days later, on July 27th, 17 days after her mother. Clearly, complications of childbirth took both mother and child.

Of the 41 grandchildren we know were born to Barbara, only 16 or 17 survived to adulthood. That’s a 61% mortality rate, meaning almost two-thirds of the children didn’t live to marriage age.

The Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper is merciless.

Barbara Sing died on July 10, 1686. We don’t know why, other than it was assuredly something to do with childbirth. It could have been Puerperal Fever, also known as childbed fever, which can lead to blood poisoning. However, her death could also have been a result of a hemorrhage, internal damage, or loss of a large amount of blood.

Given that the child died too, I’d be inclined to think that perhaps childbed fever was the culprit as a result of a long labor. The long labor could have caused the child’s death as well, especially if something went wrong, such as a breach birth.

Regardless, Barbara was gone. She was only 40 or 41 years old, and left several children behind.

  • Katherina was 17
  • Johann George was 12
  • Daniel was 10
  • Elisabetha, if she was living, would have turned 9 on the day her new sister, Barbara, died
  • Anna Maria was 7
  • Johann Jakob was 6
  • Philipp was 4

Barbara had to wonder, as she was desperately ill, who would raise her children?

Who would kiss their boo-boos?

Who would take care of them?

Fix their favorite foods?

Hold and comfort them?

Who would love them the way she loved them?

Would they remember her?

What about her newborn baby? Would she survive? How, without her mother’s milk?

And what was her husband, Hans, to do?

How could he possibly tend the vineyards, press the grapes, produce wine and maintain his business selling wines while looking after 7 or 8 children?

He couldn’t exactly take all the children to the fields with him, especially not a baby.

Those questions cross the mind of every mother from time to time. However, in Barbara’s case, this was very real and pressing – not an abstract thought.

Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper visited all too often in the days before antibiotics and modern medicine.

The good news, or bad news, or both, was that there were others in the same situation. Joining forces made sense.

A Step-Mother for Barbara’s Children

Barbara didn’t exactly get to select her successor – the woman who would raise her children after she could no longer do so.

Hans waited a respectable amount of time before remarrying, 12 months to be exact. The banns had to be posted for 3 weeks, and the minister would have posted and read the marriage banns on the first Sunday following the 1-year anniversary of Barbara’s death, inviting anyone who had any knowledge of why the couple shouldn’t marry to come forth.

On August 2, 1687, Hans married Barbara Roller(in) who was the widow of Sebastian Heubach from Endersbach. Barbara was born in 1748, so she would have been 39 years old when she married Hans. However, we find no children born to them, nor do I find any record of children born from her first marriage either, which occurred in 1672.

If Barbara already had children, she and Hans joined their families when they wed. If not, then perhaps Barbara welcomed the opportunity to become a mother and love the first Barbara Lenz’s children.

Step-parents are the parents who choose us.

Mitochondrial DNA Candidates

Mitochondrial DNA is a special type of DNA passed from mothers to their children, but only passed on by daughters. It’s never admixed with the DNA of the father, so it is passed on essentially unchanged, except for an occasional small mutation, for thousands of years. Those small mutations are what make this DNA both genealogically useful and provide a key to the past.

By looking at Barbara’s mitochondrial DNA, we can tell where her ancestors came from by evaluating information provided by the trail of tiny mutations.

Only one of Barbara’s daughters, Anna Maria who married Hans Jakob Bechtel (Bechthold,) is known to have lived to have children. Although, if two other daughters lived, it’s possible that either Anna Katharina (born 1669) or Elisabetha (born 1677) married and had children elsewhere.

Anna Maria Lenz Bechtel had two daughters who lived to adulthood, but only one married.

  • Anna Maria Bechtel was born in 1715 and married Jakob Siebold/Seybold of Grunbach. Their children were all born in Remshalden.
    • Anna Maria Seybold was born  in 1737 and married Johann Jacob Lenz in 1761, children unknown
    • Regina Dorothea Seybold was born in 1741, married Johann Wolfgang Bassler in 1765, and had one known daughter.
      • Johanna Bassler was born in 1785, married Johannes Wacker in 1814, and had three daughters, Johanna Elisabetha (1818), Dorothea Catharina (1822), and Carolina Friederica (1825.)
    • Anna Catharina Seybold born in 1751 married Johann Leonhard Wacker in 1813 in Remshalden. No known daughters.
    • Elisabeth Seybold born in 1752 married Johann Michael Weyhmuller in 1780 in Remshalden and had three daughters who lived to adulthood, married, and had daughters.
      • Anna Maria Weyhmuller born 1785, married Eberhard Sigmund Escher from Esslingen in 1807, but children are unknown.
      • Regina Dorothea Weyhmueller born 1787 and married Salomo Dautel in 1814 in Remshaulden. They immigrated to America in 1817, location and children unknown.
      • Elisabetha Weyhmueller born in 1792 and had daughter Jakobine Hottmann in 1819 with Daniel Hottmann. She then married Wilhelm Friedrich Espenlaub and had Josephina Friederika Espenlaub in 1830. Children unknown.

For anyone who descends from Barbara Sing through all females to the current generation, which can be male, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you.

Please reach out! Let’s see what we can discover about Barbara together!


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Hans Lenz (1645-1725), Wealthy Vintner – 52 Ancestors #363

Hans Lenz was born in 1645 in Beutelsbach, Germany, three years before the end of the 30 Years War. Unfortunately, the church records for this time period, between 1626 and 1646 were destroyed during that war by the legions of invading soldiers.

Hans was lucky to have survived. Most of his siblings didn’t. That warfare not only outright killed much of the populace, those that weren’t murdered directly often died of starvation or dysentery.

Luckily for the Lenz family, as horrific as this time was, they had two things that the soldiers wanted and couldn’t produce for themselves. Wine and bread.

Records show that the soldiers quartered with Hans’s father, but failed to “pay” for their wine. Of course, the fact that his father, also named Hans, had wine to turn over, and bread to be stolen, and continued to produce both was probably what saved his family.

The war ended when Hans, the son, was about 3 years old. It’s unlikely that he retained much memory of the war years, invading troops and their atrocities. By the time he was forming memories, his father would have been baking for the citizens once again, probably getting up before sunrise to produce fresh bread and pastries for the hausfraus as they did their market shopping for the day.

Hans the elder sold bread to the women in the mornings and wine to the men in the evenings.

Hans the younger grew up with the yeasty smell of baking bread wafting through the house, probably waking up daily to that wonderful scent.

His parents, Hans Lenz, the baker, and Katharina Lenz, both born in nearby Schnait were likely related, but church records don’t reach far enough back to identify the intersection of their Lenz lines.


Beutelsbach is a beautiful, quaint village beneath steep hillside vineyards, shown in this drawing dating from about 1760. Scattered houses surround the medieval church, its spire reaching for the heavens. The church was the center of village life, and of the village itself.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Hockensmith.

The hillsides don’t look much different now.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Hockensmith.

Hans would have climbed these hills to trim the vines of yesteryear, just as these grapevines have been trimmed and manicured today. In this photo, you can see the church tower in the distance. Hans would have been able to keep an eye on the village, surrounding area, and his home from these vineyards.

The Baker’s House

Photo courtesy Martin Goll.

Hans Lenz grew up in this home near the church in Beutelsbach. Descendant and historian Martin Goll identified this building and shared the photo, indicating that at least the bottom portion referred to as the basement or cellar is authentic to the period when Hans lived there.

Hans’s father, Hans the baker, died in 1667, just 14 months before Hans, his son, married Barbara Sing on February 23, 1669, in Beutelsbach.

Based on this autotranslation of the marriage book, it appears that Hans Lenz was serving in the military at the time he married and showed his license locally, perhaps?

Marriage book:

Gefreyter and hrn. Captain of Roman Compagnie. Has shown his marriage certificate of Mr. Obrist Lieutenat Pentz which of Mr. Specialis von Schorndorf by me been fitting, on it he gives the Conzesion to the Copulation.

It appears that Hans Lenz was serving in the Great Turkish War and received permission to marry.

Wine Merchant

Photo courtesy Sharon Hockensmith.

Hans did not follow in his father’s footsteps as a baker, but instead became quite wealthy, at least comparatively so in Beutelsbach terms, as a wine merchant.

As the only known son, he apparently inherited his father’s substantial estate. In addition to the bakery/home, the estate included 8 vineyard fields, as compared to the normal one field that was sufficient to earn a living.

Hans was the first of many vinedressers in the Lenz line. In addition to maintaining and harvesting his own grapes, Hans also ran a wine business, as did his father.

Martin Goll has compared many estates in Schnait and Beutelsbach and indicates that typical vinedressers processed and sold their grapes, but did not press them into wine and did not then sell the wine to consumers or merchants. Hans was the exception.

In addition to being a vinedresser, Hans was a very successful merchant and vintner, as indicated by his estate inventory after his death. Hans owned multiple properties, including, “house with barn and garden in the upper lane, 500 bottles, housing 370 bottles, cellar 170 bottles. Total assets 14,642 bottles.”

Yes, you read that right. More than 14,000 bottles of wine. I have to wonder where he stored all that wine, and if that was why the cellar in the photo of his home is so large, compared to others. I also wonder if the 14,642 was supposed to be the value of the bottles of wine, instead of a total.

According to Martin, Hans’s estate was worth almost 15,000 guilders.

I couldn’t figure out exactly the equivalent in today’s dollar, but Martin wrote that Hans’ heirs received about 2000 Guilders each which left them well-off but not wealthy like their father.

Hans may have been the wealthiest man in Beutelsbach.

The Lenz Home at Stiftrasse 17

Hans’s home and wine business was ideally situated in the center of town, at present-day Stiftrasse 17, where the streets converged, only a couple doors from the centrally-located church.

This was critical, not just for being right on the path to the center of town where everyone had to pass, but also because the church was fortified with a protective wall. Living just a stone’s throw away meant one could quickly gather family members inside the fortification in times of danger. Memories of the Thirty Year’s War weren’t yet distant. I wonder if the family ever needed to seek refuge inside the church walls.

On the Google Maps image above, you can see the fortification tower with the red arrow at the top, and the connecting wall by the lower red arrows. The Lenz home is indicated by the red pin.

On the 1760 map, the red arrow points to the building I believe to be the Lenz home. Note the large cellar in this drawing.

Married Life

According to the Beutelsbach Local Heritage book, Hans Lenz and Barbara Sing (or Seng) were married for 17 years, bringing 11 children into the world.

Taking the babies for baptism was just a short walk of a few feet.

Three children died before their mother, as infants. We have no death or marriage record for one daughter, so we don’t know what happened to her.

Barbara, their last child was born on July 2, 1686, and probably named in honor of her mother. Baby Barbara died when she was just three weeks and 4 days old – 17 days after her mother’s death. I’d wager this was a difficult birth and a crushing blow to Hans and their surviving children.

Barbara Sing Lenz died on July 10, 1686, at 41 years of age, leaving Hans with a critically ill week-old newborn infant plus 7 additional children ranging in age from 17 down to not-quite-5.

Hans was probably a much better vinedresser and vintner than single father, so he did what any other German man from that era would have done.

He remarried 13 months later to Barbara Roller, born in 1648, the widow of Sebastian Heubach from Endersbach. It’s unknown whether Barbara had children from her previous marriage, but it’s likely that she did.

Barbara would have mothered her own children, plus his too. The younger children may have been too young to remember their mother, so Barbara Roller Lenz was the only mother they ever knew.

Hans and Barbara had been married for 16 years when Barbara died on May 7, 1704 at 56 years of age. No children were born to their marriage.

By the time Barbara died, Hans’s children would have been grown.

Hans married again about 1705 to a woman named Anna who was born about 1650. They were married for approximately 20 years. Anna outlived Hans by three years, passing away on Christmas Eve in 1728.

Joining the Barbaras

Hans was “probably 80 years” old when he passed away. It’s hard to grieve this man’s passing. Given that he was born during a devastating war, he had an amazingly long and prosperous life.

Hans was born into a privileged family, at least compared to others, served his country honorably, and came home to inherit the family home and businesses.

Apparently, Hans wasn’t keen on being a baker like his father, but he did become a very successful vintner.

The great griefs in his life were likely the deaths of his parents and siblings, of course, in addition to the deaths of two wives and at least 5 and probably 7 of his children before he passed over to the other side.

We don’t know Hans’ cause of death, but it would probably have been attributed to “old age.” 80 at that time was ancient! He has cheated death so many times.

On a crisp winter’s day, on January 22, 1725, Hans joined all three Barbaras, his two wives and baby daughter, and all those who had gone before.

Photo courtesy Sharon Hockensmith.

The minister likely preached his funeral the next day, or maybe the day after, as the townspeople, along with his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even a few great-great-grandchilden gathered to celebrate his life. The church would have been packed.

After the minister finished the sermon inside the sanctuary, Hans’ coffin would have been carried into the churchyard where he was buried in what is now an unmarked grave, perhaps between his beloved Barbaras.

Maybe afterward, the chilly mourners gathered around the corner at his home to toast Hans one last time with wine from his own wine cellar.

Here’s to you, Hans!


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Dad, I Hear Your Voice – 52 Ancestors #362

In the shifting twilight of consciousness late at night, between wakefulness and sleep, and in the morning between sleep and wake again, sometimes I hear his voice speaking softly to me.

Just the sound of his measured tones someplace in the distance is comforting to me.

I don’t want to wake up, because I don’t want to leave him – or him to leave me. I clutch desperately to the tendrils of that dream, if that’s in fact what it is.


My Dad.

Not the man who begat me, but the one who chose me.

The man who would sacrifice his life for mine.

Not just theoretically, but in actuality – and nearly did.

His words and actions come back to me.

And visit my soul, whispering in the mist.

Just like in this photo, where, if you squint, you can see Dad standing outside the back door on the sidewalk, a shape frozen in time.

He’s always in the mists and someplace nearby, trembling on the raggedy edges of my life.

Drifting in and out like wisps of smoke.

Reaching out to me when need be.

Even all these years after he departed…

He never departed my soul.

In fact, he’s grown closer with each year of missing him.


Young people judge their self-worth by those who love them.

By the words they hear and the actions they see.

Dad never told me I couldn’t.

He knew I would probably do whatever anyway, so instead, he helped me be a safe daredevil.

As safe as a daredevil can be.

As safe as a father can keep the second daughter after the first one already died.

With each passing year, I realize with increasing clarity what a trying teenager I surely was.

How he must have struggled.

When I started drag racing on a dirt strip with my brother, mother was furious for any number of very logical reasons. She had the best of intentions, but her approach didn’t work well with me.

Dad was concerned for my safety. I knew he wished I wouldn’t race. But instead of telling me why I shouldn’t, or that I couldn’t, he made sure my seat fit correctly and my seatbelt was snug enough. No full harnesses then and the helmets were archaic by today’s standards. He made sure my equipment was in the best possible condition and crafted my rollbar himself.

He taught me to be the best driver possible.

But Dads can’t keep their daughters safe forever.

Racing wasn’t the worst of it.

Better Me Than You

A few years later, I got tangled up with someone who, in Dad’s vernacular “did me dirty.” It was worse than that though – it was downright dangerous and abusive. The kind of relationship that women often don’t escape.

I knew the day Dad brought a gun home, for me, and took me out in the field to be sure I absolutely knew how to use it, that the situation was serious as a heart attack. As a farmer’s daughter, we had used shotguns for years. This was entirely different.

That’s when Dad matter-of-factly informed me that he was going out FIRST and under absolutely no circumstances was I to set one toe outside of that house without him at night. Dad never, ever gave me ultimatums.

I could race cars, but I couldn’t go outside?


I loudly complained, for a variety of reasons, but among them, that Dad might get shot, himself. I was speaking mostly in the abstract, being more-than-a-little argumentative, not fully grasping the gravity of the situation.

The situation had already escalated to the point where my tires had been slashed, then my vehicle set ablaze. Dad bought the gun for me the day we dug bullets out of the house.

He knew what was up, even if I didn’t.

When I expressed concern that he might get shot, Dad looked up from what he was doing and said to me, “Better me than you.”

A slight pause, maybe a breath, then, “I’ve lived a long life.”

It took a minute for that to soak in…


He glanced at me, put his gun back in the inside pocket of his overalls where it lived those days, and said, very quietly and simply, “You’re worth it.”

You’re Worth It

My God. Could that man have told me he loved me any louder?

I stopped dead in my tracks.

My eyes filled with tears.

The silence was long and full of so much unsaid, and yet so meaningful.

That man, my step-father, who chose me as a young, mouthy teenager as part of a package deal when he married my mother would willingly lay down his life for me and planned to do so if I was in danger.

In my mind’s eye, I can see our two hearts being woven together, eternally.


As a naive young woman, I was heartbroken over the lost relationship with that tire-slashing, arsonist male who was shooting at our house. My family had a name for him, several actually. I just can’t repeat any of them here.

I couldn’t figure out what I had “done wrong” and why the male in question was behaving that way.

Of course, NOW, with decades of reflection and experience under my belt, I know those answers, and they have nothing at all to do with me.

But at the time, I was young and felt horribly rejected, unworthy, and cast aside.

Mom explained just how jerky the male was being, which, unfortunately, simply caused me to attempt to defend the indefensible. That upset my mother further. She saw some very ugly handwriting on the wall.

Dad and I often sat outside in the backyard together, especially when it was hot inside. And it was always hot inside when Mom was upset😊

Sitting on Dad’s metal glider and chair, cleaning vegetables that had been plucked from the garden, Dad was patiently trying to explain to me that I had other options.

You’re Worth So Much More

I wasn’t paying much attention to what Dad was actually saying. I was more focused on what I could do to change said male’s mind, “fix” him, and was busily making excuses. Then vacillating back to being angry. One might say I was pretty much an emotional mess.

Dad countered with a statement, and I replied, between tears, “Yea, Dad, I know he’s not worth it.” Of course, a minute later I’d say something completely different.

Dad paused, probably incredibly exasperated, but it never showed in his voice.

Instead, he said thoughtfully and deliberately, with the utmost love, “That’s not what I said, Bobbi. I didn’t say he wasn’t worth it. I said you’re worth so much more.”

I sat there for a minute because, at first, I didn’t understand the difference. Then, suddenly, I did.

Dad continued, “It’s not about him, it’s about you. You don’t deserve to be treated like this. You’re going to do so much more with your life. Your future is in front of you. You’re going to accomplish amazing things and change lives.”

And then.

“This isn’t the end of your life. It’s the beginning. It’s a doorway, a passage to the future. Your future is not here, but I will always be with you wherever you go.”

This morning, in the shifting twilight of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep, once again, I heard your voice and saw your smile.

I love you, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.


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Edna Estes Miller (1920-1990), Sister: Once Found, Twice Lost – 52 Ancestors #361

Edna was my sister, but I didn’t know that for the first two decades of my life. Over time, I caught slight drifts that a sibling existed, in very vague terms, but nothing more.

Edna was listed in our father’s obituary as Mrs. Clifford Miller, but I didn’t see that obituary until I was 22 years old.

Finding Edna

I found Edna through a very odd combination of circumstances in 1978, only to lose her again in 1990.

What I wouldn’t give for those first two precious decades. I feel like I lost her twice – once through family circumstances and then, ultimately, to death.

Edna died unexpectedly. No time for preparation or goodbyes.

Edna and Clifford Miller, her husband, are pictured above in a photo taken in 1986 for their 50th wedding anniversary. This is how I remember her, except smiling. Edna was always smiling.

I was there that day, with them – one of the few life events we were able to celebrate together.

If you’re quietly thinking to yourself that there’s a BIG age difference between us, you’d be exactly right.

Edna’s story and mine are both messy, thanks in part to the same man – our father.

Edna and I were separated by many years and a lifetime we had missed. But we were joined by common bonds. Not only our blood relationship – we discovered many things we had in common and how much alike we were.

Edna Arrives!

Edna was born on May 22, 1920, the daughter of William Sterling Estes, known as Bill, and Martha Dodder.

Our father was in the Army and stationed at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan. Martha, shown above with an unidentified soldier, was a volunteer at the hospital there.

In August of 1919, my father was hospitalized as the flu epidemic swept through Camp Custer.

He thought he was dying – with good reason. He nearly did. He ran dangerously high fevers and likely had encephalitis.

Our father was hospitalized 3 times over that summer, the last time in August for 3 weeks. He wrote desperate letters to his sweetheart in Indiana, Virgie, who had rejected him. She simply stopped writing – ghosting as we call it today – probably the most painful rejection of all.

My father did plenty of boneheaded things in his lifetime, but it’s hard not to have compassion for a young man, just 17, far from home, gravely ill, and all alone.

Two of his grandparents had already died of that horrible flu, and the remaining two would just a few months later. He must have been terrified.

Martha was 5 years older than Bill and was born with a cleft palate. Edna was conceived about the time of his hospitalization, or immediately thereafter. I’m not sure who was comforting whom or the expectations within the relationship, but a few months later, my father had another new problem.

You see, Martha wasn’t the only female comforting my father. So was Ilo Bailey, who also became pregnant. I’m not sure if my father simply married the first of the two women who presented themselves “in a family way,” or if other factors were involved.

I have always suspected that he was still “waiting” for Virgie to come to her senses. For the record, he did marry Virgie, in 1961, more than four decades later, but I digress.

Father married Ilo Bailey in December 1919 and their baby was born in February 1920. Edna was born to Martha just three months later, in May of 1920.

At one point, it appears that both women showed up at the courthouse for the same proceeding. I bet that was something to behold! I would love to have been a fly on that wall.

Eventually, though, Ilo had enough.

In March of 1921, Ilo wrote a letter to my father who was still in the military, although at that time, in the brig, telling him she was leaving for Kentucky with their son and had filed for divorce. Ironically, that letter came to me through Martha.

On December 12, 1921, Bill married Martha Dodder.

The New Problem

Now, the couple had a new problem.

When Edna was born, Martha listed a different man as her father. Soon after they married, Martha and Bill filed to have Edna’s surname changed and have him listed as her father, stating that the birth certificate was incorrect. A “mistake” had occurred.

I could never understand why Edna’s birth certificate wasn’t filed in the clerk’s book and index with the other babies born in May of 1920. Instead, it was out-of-place, filed more than 18 months later. Now, with this additional information, the filing order makes sense. The father’s identification and name change had to be approved by the court and was in essence treated the same, in terms of the recording, as an adoption. The records were also sealed.

Edna’s original birth record lists her mother as Martha Dodder and her father as Edward Polushink. The baby’s name was listed as Edna Marie Polushink.

Why would Martha do that?

Of course, it’s possible that Martha wasn’t sure who the father was, but I thought, all things considered, it was more likely that my father talked her into that in order to keep him out of hot water with the military who frowned upon soldiers getting local girls “in trouble” and then marrying someone else. They probably would have doubly frowned on getting two women in trouble at the same time – and that was in addition to his indiscretions for which he was already confined to jail for 6 months in 1920. His escapades read like a very bad, or exceptionally good, novel.

I shook my head, thinking what a bad influence my father was on poor Martha.


Edna never knew most, if any, of this. I didn’t make most of these discoveries until after her death.

I don’t think Edna knew that her parents weren’t married at the time of her birth. While relatively common today, at that time, it was socially very awkward, horribly embarrassing, and humiliating. To put this in perspective, some photos of Martha’s children were taken beside a horse and buggy. I discovered that information when I visited the local archives and located Martha and Bill’s divorce file, which included their marriage date and location.

Of course, I didn’t yet know about Ilo Bailey, and that both women were pregnant at the same time. For Martha, that would have made the situation worse, much worse – and then he married the “other” pregnant woman, truly leaving her stranded. My heart aches for Martha!

I discovered the information about Edward Polushink on Edna’s birth certificate in the 1990s, not long after she passed. I was working in Calhoun County, where Edna was born, and on a fluke decided to visit the clerk’s office and request a copy of her birth certificate. That’s when I discovered the discrepancy and the odd filing date. The original entry in the index had been lined through, which was even more confusing. As it turns out, the employee in the clerk’s office was confused too, which is the only reason I was able to view the two index entries.

Why would one entry be lined out with a new entry recorded months later? An adoption or court-ordered amendment of the birth certificate – that’s why.

That information always made me wonder, but I certainly did not want to create additional family drama. Edna and her family had already been through enough and all of that past history was water under the bridge. Edna was gone and I loved her regardless.

Plus, I figured Edward Polushink was simply a created alias. I casually asked around and no one had ever heard of anyone by that name. Neither were there additional records for him. My Dad was the king of aliases and how to use them effectively. Yes, that’s surely what it was.

Years later, after a multitude of records began to be available online, out of curiosity, I checked that name once again. Much to my surprise, I discovered one Edward Palushnik, a forestry engineer, who arrived in Battle Creek, Michigan in May of 1919 to live with his brother at 25 Margerie Street. Additional research in the 1915 and 1918 city directory shows both men living at 25 Marjorie Street.

Further research shows that Edward was discharged from the military in June of 1919.

Hmmm, maybe Edna really WAS Edward’s child. Could this be?

Surely not. Probably just a coincidence, right? Even though it does place a man with a similar name in Battle Creek at the same time.

This really nagged at the genealogist in me.

Then, in the 1920 census, I discovered Martha living with her parents, quite pregnant in April, of course, at 23 Marjorie Street in Battle Creek.


This is not a coincidence nor is Edward Polushink an alias.

Further research on Edward shows that he didn’t stay in Battle Creek. He married in September of 1921 in Wayne County, Michigan.

Talk about a can of worms!

The Divorce

My father and Martha had married in December of 1921, a year and a half after Edna’s birth, but that marriage didn’t last long.

On February 26, 1924, the divorce between Martha and Bill was finalized amid allegations of infidelity. He accused Martha of cheating which, even if true, knowing my father, probably fell into the category of the pot calling the kettle black.

She accused him of cruelty and alleged he was lazy and because of that, she had to work.

Reading the documents in that file was just painful. It became evident that Martha and Bill had a tumultuous marriage that probably should never have happened in the first place. It was abundantly clear that both people were miserable.

Martha filed for divorce in September of 1923. He did not contest the divorce and apparently, left.

I say “apparently left,” because…well…with my father, you never really know.

In May 1925, fifteen months after the divorce was final in February, a daughter was born to Martha who had not remarried. That child eventually had the surname of Lindsey, but I can’t help but wonder if my father was involved.


Whose child was born in May of 1925 and what surname did she use when the child was born, given what we discovered about Edna’s birth record?

In 1934, after the birth of three additional children, including one who died at 13 months of age, Martha married Marcus Lindsey as (at least) his 3rd wife. All of Martha’s children born after Edna carried the Lindsay surname, at least in adulthood.

Martha’s Death

Martha had a very rough life.

She died unexpectedly in January of 1943 at only 45 of a coronary occlusion. Her obituary said she had been ill for several months and had gone to stay with her sister for care. She left 3 young children at home ranging in age from 4 to 18.

I don’t have the details, but I know there was a great deal of “churn” surrounding Martha’s life, and Martha’s death.

Edna Grows Up

Edna was a joyful and beautiful child, raised for the most part by her mother and grandparents.

These photos were taken when Edna was 4.

By 1934 when Edna’s mother, Martha, married Marcus Lindsey, Edna would have been one of 4 children, the oldest at 14, and the only step-child. It’s not surprising that Edna married Cliff two short years later.

I don’t know exactly how or when Edna met Cliff. I do know that he was 8 years older than Edna, exactly 8 years – to the day.

Edna married Cliff on the third of July, 1936 in Howe, LaGrange County, Indiana, just across the Michigan/Indiana border – a Gretna Green type of destination with little or no wait to obtain a marriage license.

Yes, I do believe they eloped in Cliff’s car. She was 16. He was 24.

These grainy, sweet, photos were taken on their wedding day.

A year and a few weeks later, their first child arrived.

Cliff was always a hard worker – an industrious farmer who owned his own sawmill in addition to working at and retiring from Upjohn. A good provider, he was still a product of the time in which he was born and had specific expectations about what a wife, his wife, should and should not do.

Edna was 23 when her mother died, with three young children of her own – and expecting a fourth. Edna felt exhausted, orphaned, and alone.

Dad Visits Edna

Even though our father and Edna’s mother were divorced in early 1924, he never lost track of Edna entirely and had the habit of dropping in unexpectedly to visit people from time to time. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been welcomed by Martha, but he found Edna as an adult about 1950 when he searched her out and stopped by their farm.

Edna was angry with him for his 20+ year absence in her youth and Cliff was none too happy either. He never trusted Bill.

Edna’s oldest daughter says she remembers his first visit when she was in the 7th grade. She came home from school and he was sitting at the kitchen table, talking to Edna who introduced him to her children.

After that, he visited regularly.

Edna took photos of our father with her kids in 1953. During that same visit, he took her photo standing between her two oldest girls.

I so love the mischievous expression on Edna’s face.

It was during that time that Mother met Edna. Only two years apart in age, they wrote chatty letters discussing their children and exchanged photos for at least a decade. Edna told Mom about the farm and that her oldest daughter was going to college. Mom told her that my (half) brother was going to barber school, that I was potty trained and my father had been ill.

We lived in central Indiana. Edna and Cliff lived in Michigan. Mom was busy with me and Edna was busy with several children, including a daughter of about the same age. In fact, then as well as years later, we could have been mistaken for twins. I’m at the right, below.

Both Mom and Edna had fond recollections of each other. Edna did not, however, feel fondly towards my father, and neither did my mother nor Cliff.

At some point, Mother and Edna met when I was young, likely accompanying my father at some point when he visited. Edna said she remembered me as a baby. I wish someone had snapped a picture.

I have no recollection of Edna in my life when I was young, but that’s probably because my parents separated when I was about 18 months old, Bill died a few years later, and both Edna and mother were extremely busy.

Father Died

Our father died in 1963 following an automobile accident. The official cause of death was a heart attack, but he bled to death from internal injuries. That’s not the whole story though. His death was actually a suicide. Edna never knew that either.

I don’t know if Edna attended the funeral, although I suspect not. Mother did not take me, probably simply because we didn’t have the gas money, although attending his funeral was something I really needed in order to accept that he was dead and never coming back. I was only 7. He was often gone for long periods, dropping in at will. It was natural for me to believe that we were just “waiting” and he would one day show up again. Except, that wait was forever.

As a young child, I adored my father, unaware that he left a trail of carnage and broken hearts behind him in terms of the women and children in his life.

Mother resented my father’s behaviors and the fact that he walked away from responsibility. She discovered the “other woman,” along with the “other child,” Dave, born just 5 months before me.

Yep, my Dad did it again – two women, both pregnant at the same time. You’d think he would have learned in the space of thirty-some years…but no!

To say Mother was furious, not to mention crushed and embarrassed is an understatement. Mother entered into that relationship with the intention of “forever.” Every other woman who had children with my father assuredly felt the same way, with the same set of expectations – living happily forever after. That never happened.

There weren’t hard feelings between Mother and Edna, but their letters became fewer and further between, then stopped. Edna had teenagers, then grandchildren and so did Mother. Plus, Mom worked and eventually remarried.

Growing up, I didn’t realize that I had a sister, although I don’t think it was actually a “secret.” It was more like a vague sense that drifted away in time.

Years later, when I actually read my father’s yellowed obituary clipping tucked into his American Legion hat with his tie and pin, the fact that another child, a sister, was listed hit me like a ton of bricks.

Finding Edna

I found Edna through a series of “coincidences” that served two purposes. Not only did I meet Edna, but I also accidentally became a genealogist.

I think both were my fate.

I knew little about my family on my father’s side. Truthfully, I knew nothing. My father’s family was from far-away Tennessee and my mother was not in contact with any of his relatives.

When I was pregnant and suddenly found myself out of a job (yes, they could do that back then), I decided I wanted to know a little more about my father’s family and had unexpected time on my hands.

My step-mother, Virgie, a lovely lady, was still living, but she didn’t know much about the Estes family.

Virgie provided me with my father’s obituary, along with his hat, tie and pin that she had been saving for me until I was an adult. In the obituary, Edna’s name was given as Mrs. Clifford Miller of Vicksburg, Michigan.

I was stunned.

I was immediately skeptical because there were several errors in Dad’s obituary. To begin with, my mother was listed as my father’s daughter and I was omitted entirely. I called Virgie and asked about that, and she said she didn’t know what happened, or why.

I now know that three other children were omitted as well. Or at least, people my father believed were his children.

Additionally, my father’s 4 full and 3 living half-siblings are omitted, and his half-sister is listed as his step-sister. But hey, it’s close, right?

Is it any wonder I was confused? What little I had been told didn’t line up with what I saw in writing. Did I really have a sister? Who was she?

Virgie suggested that I call my father’s family in Tennessee to sort things out and learn more.

Was that a solution or jumping from the frying pan into the fire? I recalled some of the things my mother had said, mostly in passing, about my father and his family. It also concerned me that Virgie didn’t know more. She was a lovely lady. Why was she not involved with these people – and why did none of them seem to care that my father had a daughter?

Hello, Operator?

After a day or so, I gingerly picked up the phone, dialed “0” for “operator” and asked for anyone with the Estes surname in Tazewell, Tennessee. That’s all I had, that one town name. The operator in Tazewell, a local lady, was extremely helpful.

She asked me “which Estes” I wanted to talk to. I told her that I wanted to find out about my family, and who my father’s family was. She said, “Oh, you need to talk to George,” and connected me. Uncle George, who was really a first cousin once removed, told me, among other things, that my aunts, my father’s sisters, were still living. I was dumbstruck. So was he – that I didn’t know about them. He gave me a phone number.

I connected with my elderly, somewhat eccentric aunts, whose favorite pastime it seemed was doing battle with each other. As it turned out, they knew “all about“ me and had a LOT to say, trying to outdo each other. They told me “stories” about siblings and such, some of whom did exist and some who may not. I’ve never been able to substantiate much of what they said, although it wasn’t all bunk either. It was then and remains difficult to sort the truth from the fiction.

I’m still waiting for that DNA surprise sibling I’m just sure must exist someplace!

A little more sleuthing netted me another phone number.

Finally, after an appropriate amount of grilling and questioning me, one of the aunts grudgingly gave me a phone number she said was my sister’s.

The aunts were masters of giving you almost what you wanted, but not quite. In this case, I received the phone number for one sister, but they would not provide information about other supposed siblings, although they made it very clear they had that information. I didn’t know this at the time, of course, but in retrospect, I was very fortunate to receive that one phone number and name.

I debated about calling. My mother was very uncomplimentary about my father’s family and that conversation with my aunts confirmed some of what she had said.

My grandparents had in essence abandoned my father and his brother. My grandfather was not a nice person. The aunts clearly suffered through similar situations from the same parents. They were manipulative enough that I was concerned about the rest of the family. Were they the same? Or worse? What was I getting myself into?

Did I REALLY want contact with this family, or did I just think I did? Maybe I just wanted to know about them, not know them.

Finding lost relatives is much like opening Pandora’s box. Once opened, it can never be closed. After much introspection and endlessly staring at the phone number written on that pad of yellow paper, I summoned all my courage and decided to call the woman who was supposed to be my sister. I picked up the receiver and dialed. There was no turning back now.

I finished dialing. I heard the phone ring on the other end.

My hands were shaking.


What if she hung up on me?


What if she was crazy?


What if I was sorry?


I knew, based on my mother’s very guarded behavior about my father, as well as comments that other people had made that this family was “difficult” at best. I had no experience with their flavor of “difficult” and was clearly outgunned.


Was I making a huge mistake?


Should I just hang up?


The Phone Call

Cliff answered the phone.


My voice was quivering.

I told him who I was and asked if his wife was the daughter of William Estes.

I sounded ridiculous and stumbled all over my words. I should have practiced.

He asked why I wanted to know and what I wanted.

This was not going well. I wasn’t prepared for this very direct question.

He was clearly NOT friendly.

I explained that I wanted to know about my family. He immediately sounded very “odd,” his voice quite strained. He paused, then told me to hang on a minute.

That was the longest minute ever.

Muffled shuffling and muted voices. I knew he had covered the phone with his hand.

A minute or so later, although it seemed like forever, Edna came to the phone. Increasingly nervous, I stuttered and stammered.

I’ve always disliked phones and phone calls.

I had the distinct sense that this was a one-time shot. No repeat if I somehow screwed this up.

Edna was nice and pleasant, and I finally relaxed a little. Her voice was soft and reassuring. I didn’t feel like she hated me from the onset.

We visited for some time and she told me that they were in the process of moving, and retiring to Arizona. Had I not called when I did, I would have missed them entirely and would probably never have been able to find them. They had sold the farm and were leaving that upcoming weekend.

That’s how close I came to missing Edna.

But that just-in-the-nick-of-time call wasn’t the oddest part. It turns out that I had actually been given the wrong phone number by the aunts. Was that intentional? I had repeated it back to them. However, in my nervousness, I had accidentally inverted those two “wrong” numbers when dialing, and had, by happenstance, reached the right number.

That “coincidence” still gives me cold chills.

Edna mailed me this 40th-anniversary photo of her and Cliff. I studied this picture to see if she looked like me.

I couldn’t tell.

It seemed and felt odd to have a sister that was my mother’s age.

Meeting Edna

Edna and I wanted to meet, so we decided that she and Cliff would stop by during their travels that summer, after my baby was born.

Cliff and Edna arrived a few weeks later pulling their 5th-wheel and camped in our driveway.

That was the first meeting of many. We bonded immediately and felt like we had always known each other. I was sad that they were moving so far away, but we made the best of the situation. We visited in person when we could, wrote letters, and talked “long distance” on the phone nearly every Sunday when they weren’t on the road.

Edna and I spent time getting to know each other, chattering like magpies, and cementing a permanent bond.

Both of us agreed that our mothers had done a pretty good job of raising us. She felt that she was much better off for not having been involved with our father…and she was probably right. She knew him as an irresponsible parent and had of course heard at least some stories from her mother and maternal grandparents. Edna had the advantage of having known our father as an adult herself.

He was taken from me when I still adored him as a child. I wasn’t old enough to comprehend that he caused the pain of his absence and was innocently ecstatic to see him again – just like an abandoned puppy waiting eternally for their uncaring human to return.

Hearing what Edna had to say as another of his children helped me understand the situation better. She also wasn’t speaking as an “X,” but as his child.

I understood why the trail of women he left, several with a child, felt so negatively towards him with his string of broken promises and betrayals. Edna, as a child was hurt by his absence too. Neither of us knew at that time about the horrific childhood he had endured and somehow survived.

I do believe he loved his children…just not in a responsible way. If he hadn’t, he simply would have never come back, risking slammed doors and outright rejection.

Perhaps the best thing about our father was us finding each other, like lost pieces of the same puzzle.

Common Ground

Edna and I discovered much common ground. Both of us had found our voices as artists.

Edna created beauty using lots of varied media. Her most incredible pieces were wood carvings and burnings.

I love her bird carving, shown here, but her creation I found the most moving was a carving that depicts 3 people of different races, white, black, and Native American, all looking upward to the same distant location in the sky. An exquisite spiritual piece, it spoke to my soul. I knew it emanated from hers.

Edna and I had more in common.

We had both raised orphaned animals. She was showing me photos in her family scrapbook and there was a picture of her with a young deer following her around. She then told me about bottle raising that orphan deer, and other animals as well.

My children and I rescued and raised orphaned and injured animals for years. How we both came to that rather unusual commonality is just another of those uncanny coincidences.

Some years later, one of my father’s nieces told me that in the 1940s when my father came to live with their family for a few weeks, he rescued a group of baby ducks. She and he, together, raised them. She said they had those ducks as pets on their farm forever until they died of old-duck age.

Our father wasn’t all bad.

Edna and I nurtured our new relationship and made up for the lost years as best we could. I was more the age of her kids, slightly younger than her youngest child.

We spoke nearly every Sunday. Phone rates were cheapest on Sunday and that’s when everyone made those expensive “long distance” calls. We visited when she and Cliff came back north in the summers. They wintered in Arizona and came home and “camped” in their 5th-wheel at the various kids’ and grandkids’ houses in the summer.

We always managed to get together at least once each summer.

We couldn’t talk during the summer months as much. Cell phones didn’t yet exist, at least not on a wide scale. Edna was great about writing letters though, and I wrote a few too. I loved those days of finding an envelope with her familiar handwriting in the mailbox. It always raised my spirits and was the highlight of that day.

After I began to fly with my career, I scheduled flights to connect through Phoenix so I could overnight with Edna and Cliff before catching my flight the next day. We saw each other when we could and never expected our time together to be so short. We always had the future in front of us to be enjoyed, and we certainly planned to do so.

I’ve often wondered what she told her kids before I met them. They always called me their “Baby Aunt Bobbi” because I was younger than all of them. I was welcomed always and made to feel like a family member. I never felt like I hadn’t been a family member.

The 50th Anniversary

One of my favorite memories is with the whole family.

For Edna and Cliff’s 50th wedding anniversary, the family held a big reunion picnic at one of the kid’s farms outside Battle Creek. We thoroughly enjoyed the day, did lots of good-natured teasing and visiting, and played volleyball in the large front yard between the tree-shaded circular driveway and the road. Edna and Cliff had 6 children – 5 of whom lived to adulthood and more than a dozen grandchildren. By their 50th wedding anniversary, they had several great-grandchildren too.

Friends were invited as well, so their 50th-anniversary celebration picnic was bustling, with cars and trucks parked up and down the road for half a mile or so. One man even arrived on a tractor.

I’ve never been a part of a large family, so this was something new for me. What fun, and I was saddened that I had missed so much for so long.

Edna’s sons and grandsons were busy grilling hotdogs and hamburgers. Everyone brought dishes for the buffet tables which lined the driveway in the shade beneath the huge maple trees, their leaves fluttering from time to time in the gentle breeze.

We all grabbed paper plates and enjoyed a wonderful summertime feast, sitting on scattered chairs and on blankets and quilts on the grass. Edna and Cliff, as the guests of honor, got to sit on folding chairs at a real table. They had very specifically said, “no gifts,” in the invitation, but people didn’t listen very well, me included. We “paid them no mind,” as we said on the farm.

A card table covered with a red and white gingham tablecloth held beautifully wrapped gifts and cards, many handmade.

I stitched a commemorative sampler celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary which corresponded with the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.

Cliff returned the sampler to me after Edna passed on. It was painful to him and he wanted to be sure I had it. Returning it was an act of love, but the day it arrived back home was one mighty sad day. When I made it, that possibility never occurred to me. I have now passed it on to one of her grandchildren who will, in turn, pass it on again.


After lunch at their anniversary celebration, someone erected a volleyball net.

The younger family members, of which I was then one, distributed themselves on opposite sides of the net and a good-humored but competitive series of volleyball games began.

Fourth of July weekend is hot. Between games, we all made beelines for the table with the cold drinks.

Several coolers held lemonade, iced tea, Koolaid, pop, Hi-C, and other cold treats. On the table with the cups, ice floated in a punch bowl with sliced fruit and some sort of red fruit punch. It looked luscious and icy cold. I filled a red plastic cup with ice cubes and ladled punch into the cup. I drank the whole thing in one long gulp, filled the cup, and did it again.

After each person had something to drink and cooled off a bit, we wandered back onto the front lawn, preparing to play another game of volleyball. It had sprinkled a bit while we were getting refreshments, and maybe a bit of dessert too, but the sun was out once again.

Someone served the ball and off we went.

The ball was coming straight for me. I had the perfect shot. I leaped my best Olympic leap into the air…

The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, looking up at everyone in a circle, staring down at me.

“What happened?”, I asked.

Seems my family was wondering the same thing.

My nephew helped me to my feet and walked me to one of the tables with chairs. Edna and Cliff were concerned, although Cliff was laughing and Edna was poking him to stop.

I asked where my cup was and could someone please get me some more of that tasty red ice-cold punch. I thought I might be overheated.

My nephew looked at me skeptically. “How much of that red punch did you drink?”

“Two cups. It was really good,” I answered.

“Just now?”

“Yea, why?”

He started to laugh. Then he started to laugh so hard he was crying and couldn’t breathe. Cliff was guffawing.

He told me to sit still. He called his brother over and started telling him something. His brother started to laugh uproariously too.

I was irritated. I was still thirsty and wanted something more that was cold to drink. I stood up, only to sit back down again. I felt queasy.

Something wasn’t right.

One of my nephews finally went over to the table, I thought to bring me some more punch. He reached into the cooler and brought me something else to drink.

Then he picked up a mason jar from behind the punch bowl, out of sight, and brought it over to me.

“Know what this is?”, he asked.

It had a clear liquid in it that looked like water.

“No. Is it water?”

“It’s White Lightening,” he said.

My eyebrows shot up.

“Moonshine? Oh, I don’t want any of that. I just want some of that punch.”

“Ummm,” my nephew stammered, trying not to laugh, “You just had two cups of it.”


“Yep, the punch is spiked, heavily spiked” Cliff chuckled, “I thought you knew.”

“No more punch for you,” my nephew pronounced, “You’re relegated to lemonade or iced tea. And no more volleyball either.”

I remember smiling a lot the rest of that hazy afternoon. I sat close to Edna and Cliff so lots of people talked to me too, although I don’t remember much of what they had to say. I simply remember how happy I was, sitting with my sister.

Cliff bought Edna a beautiful new diamond ring which he presented to her, saying she deserved it for putting up with him for 50 years. Let’s just say it MIGHT have been me who laughed out loud and snorted my lemonade through my nose. White Lightening will do that to you!

I’m still laughing, sitting here writing about this today. So was Edna, then.

That’s such a good memory. Everyone had a lovely day.


Other times, we’d just sit and visit wherever we were. It didn’t matter.

One time, I went to meet them someplace where they were camping and we made goulash. The only veggie she had in the camper was carrots, so our goulash had hamburger, macaroni, tomato sauce and mega-carrots. We laughed, but enjoyed cooking and eating together regardless of what it was or how many carrots.

I loved being with my sister. We thought we had forever.


A year or so after the anniversary party, Edna called with some not-so-good news. She had cancer.

I froze.

That C word will stop you in your tracks and steal your breath. Cancer will steal life as you know it, if not life itself.

My chest tightened. I sat down before I fell down.

“Whhh – wwhat? Where?”

Very long pause.

“Breast cancer.”

“Oh God. NO! NOOOooooo…” I screamed.

I tried not to sob uncontrollably but I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t stop the tears.

Over the next two years, Edna underwent a double radical mastectomy and chemo. I didn’t see her during this time. Not only did they not return north, she didn’t feel like having company in Arizona. Fortunately, one of her children lived there and others visited from time to time to help.

It was living hell.

The surgeries and treatments didn’t just affect her breasts and chest, but her arms due to the extensive surgery to remove lymph nodes. The chemo made her deathly ill. We feared she would die as a result of or during the treatments.

We still talked on Sunday when she could and felt up to it. We planned for the future – where we would meet and what we would do. We talked about making crafts together, perhaps, or her favorite place in the mountains.

I would ask her opinion about things and she would share her wisdom.

Sometime in 1988 or 1989, she got the all-clear. Cancer free. What a horrific journey, but worth it. Life could resume, although Edna always seemed tired. She was quick to remind me that she was no spring chicken and everything she endured had aged her.

The House in the Mountains

Cliff and Edna had purchased land in the mountains near Tucson before Edna’s cancer diagnosis. After the all-clear, Cliff built a house, their dream retirement space. I know Edna missed the adults-only modular retirement community where they lived before, but they both loved the peaceful, beautiful mountains. Edna’s stamina was slowly returning, and just as soon as they got unpacked and settled in their new home, she wanted me to fly down and visit again. The drive back north was more than she felt she could handle.

I delayed that visit because I knew she was still struggling with the move and fatigue. I didn’t want to be a burden and as soon as she was finished getting settled, I would visit.

They decided to take shorter driving trips in their 5th-wheel, closer to home. In May of 1990, Edna went for a checkup with her oncology team in Tucson. When she got home, they decided to head out for a few days, someplace in the mountains.

Edna set about cleaning the house and packing. Cliff got the 5th-wheel ready. A day or so later, they took off.

June 1, 1990

On Saturday evening, June 1st, 1990, my husband and I went to dinner with friends.

When we returned home, there was a message waiting from Cliff that said Edna had a heart attack. I still remember with horror hearing that message. I rewound and played it again – unsure I had heard correctly. Maybe I had missed something.

After all those months of being chronically frightened, I had finally relaxed a bit, but apparently, too soon.

He left a phone number which I called immediately. The number was to the nurse’s station at the hospital and they went to find Cliff. There was no phone, they explained, in Edna’s ICU room.

ICU? My sister was in ICU? Those words and that realization struck me like an icy slap.

Cliff repeated that Edna had a heart attack, but that she was relatively stable now. Although she was understandably upset and in some pain, she was taking a positive view of the situation. I asked where they were and he said they were at a small hospital in the middle of noplace.

He didn’t know much more.

ICU. My sister was in ICU.

After talking to Cliff, I was very uneasy, although I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why. Cliff didn’t seem terribly worried and he was there in person. Why was I?

Who knows what “intensive care” was like in a little local hospital. Did they know what they were doing? Should she be transferred? Was she really mostly “OK’ or was she just putting on a brave face for Cliff? Did she not want me to know because I would worry? What caused the heart attack? Were diagnostic tests being run?

Of course, that was before widespread cell phones and one could not talk to patients in intensive care.

She wouldn’t have been in ICU if it wasn’t serious.

ICU. My sister was in ICU.

I needed to be there. For her and for me.

I called the airline and the first flight out was about 9 AM the following morning. I booked it and went to bed for a very restless night.

I couldn’t sleep.

The Next Morning

When I got up early in the morning, I decided to call the hospital to check on Edna before I left for the airport. Once I left the house, I was pretty much out of touch until I actually arrived in Arizona. I had rented a car for my arrival and wouldn’t be in touch with the family until I got to the hospital someplace in the mountains in the afternoon.

I talked to the nurse at the nurse’s station. It was 3 hours earlier in Arizona. She said Cliff was sleeping in the lounge. Back then, family members didn’t get to stay in the rooms with patients. The nurse told me that Edna was “resting comfortably” and was stable. That was certainly good news and made me less anxious and somewhat hopeful.

Between talking with the nurse and Cliff the night before, I got no indication that Edna might not recover. Everything seemed calm and routine, as routine as something like that can be. Edna was a survivor by all accounts. Cautious optimism was the watchword.

I should have felt reassured, and I was trying to.

Still, I just could not shake this feeling.

As I was talking to the nurse, I heard the speaker at the hospital. In fact, it was so loud, I couldn’t hear anything else. I still hear it in my dreams.

Code Blue

“Code blue, code blue” it screeched, “code blue.”

The nurse either dropped the phone or put it down. I wasn’t clear whether she was going to get Cliff or if she was responding to the “code blue.” The phone was a wall phone beside the table. I sat down in a chair at the kitchen table.

I understood all too well what “code blue” meant.

I waited, but I already knew.

I waited…and waited….and listened for any glimmer of hope.

Maybe I could hear something.

Maybe Cliff would come to the phone.

Maybe it wasn’t Edna who had coded.

In the pit of my stomach, I knew.

I wasn’t fearful, it was more like dead certainty. I have always called those events “knowings”, and they are never wrong.

I closed my eyes and waited as the hot tears slipped down my cheeks.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like 20 minutes, someone came back and picked up the phone. I don’t think it was the same person, but they probably saw the phone laying on the desk off the hook. They picked it back up and said, “Hello?”

Icy fingers gripped my heart.

I asked if it was Edna who coded. The nurse said she couldn’t tell me that. I asked again for Cliff who they said was “busy.” No doubt he was. Desperate for anything, I asked, “If it wasn’t my sister who coded, you would tell me that, right?”

She paused for a very long moment, then said “Yes, yes I would.” I can still hear her voice.

I asked if Edna was gone. Like before, she said she couldn’t tell me that…I would have to talk to Cliff, who was of course “busy.” So once again, I asked the same type of question.

“If my sister wasn’t gone, you would tell me, right?” Once again, she softly said, “Yes, I would.”

Edna was gone.

Somehow, I had known since the night before.

I have always wondered if she would have fared better had she been in a major metropolitan hospital, but none of that mattered anymore.

I vividly remember sitting alone at the kitchen table in the early dawn hours, struggling with what to do. I would liked to have asked Edna for her opinion, but that would never be an option again.

Should I go to Arizona anyway? A plane ticket and rental car were horribly expensive for a young family counting pennies, let alone dollars. With Edna already gone, it seemed an unnecessary expense.

In retrospect, I probably should have gone ahead and made the journey. At least I would have gotten to see her body one more time in person and not just in a photo. I could have supported Cliff and her 2 daughters who did manage to arrive in time. But I didn’t realize any of that in that moment. I still couldn’t talk to Cliff and I had to make a “go, no-go” decision.

The Real Struggle

The real struggle though was how to deal with the unexpected death of my sister. Edna was twice lost to me.

This all seemed so horrifically unfair.

It had only been a year or two since her mastectomy and chemo for breast cancer. We thought she was cancer-free, although I came to doubt that as did the rest of the family after her death.

Cliff told me that he thought she had been told the cancer had metastasized during her checkup in Tucson. That’s why she came home and wanted to leave immediately on a camping trip. One last time before she had to tell him about the cancer and go back for more treatments.

Or, maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t going to take any more treatments. I believe that’s the decision she was weighing.

If that was the case, her death by a comparatively quick heart attack was probably a blessing, an odd sort of cosmic gift.

Funeral Decisions

After her death in Arizona, the family was faced with the quandary of how to handle the funeral arrangements. Cliff discovered that transporting her body back to Michigan for burial would cost thousands of dollars. I just had cartoonish visions of Cliff pulling the 5th-wheel, with Edna in her casket, back home. Had they allowed that, I’m sure that’s exactly what he would have done, talking to her all the way.

The decision was made to cremate her remains, then bury the urn in Michigan.

On the day of Edna’s funeral, schedules and resource juggling worked out such that Bagel (our beagle) went to stay with a friend for the day, my former husband went sailing instead of with me to my sister’s funeral, which meant he needed the van. Edna never much liked him anyway.

That meant my daughter and I, just the two of us, drove my former husband’s convertible to the funeral service which was graveside at the cemetery. A very odd combination of grief and freedom.

It’s odd the things we remember. I felt kind of strange driving a convertible to a funeral. It seemed inappropriate. Then again, I know Edna would have had a good chuckle.

After the service, we all went to Edna’s grandson’s for refreshments. Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, there was no red punch, although everyone but everyone reminded me of that legendary picnic! We all laughed about that. I was so grateful to have had that time together to make priceless precious memories.

My daughter and I put the top to the convertible down and enjoyed the rest of the day, driving home. Just her and me. That too was a gift. The sun kissed our faces and the wind blew freedom through our hair and dried our tears.

Edna would have liked that. She was free too. A part of the wind.

The Service

Edna and I shared one more thing, our deep connection to the spiritual realm, Mother Earth, and her creatures. We shared Native American ancestors and embraced the Red Road, the Native lifeways.

We both felt a spiritual connection deep within our souls and gave it a voice in our art, the way we lived our lives, and our views of the Earth and our fellow creatures. We lived it, every single day.

As we gathered together in the cemetery for Edna’s farewell ceremony and looked out over the surrounding fields, a small dark spot appeared on the top of the distant hill.

The spot began to move towards us and shortly, we could see that it was either a large dog or a wolf or maybe a crossbreed between the two. The lanky canine came and joined us. Edna’s granddaughter, a veterinarian, called the dog over to sit down, and it did, just like any other attendee, facing forward and listening attentively.

Cliff had asked if I could read a poem that had been found tucked away in Edna’s Bible. I believe she had read it at the funeral of one of her two sons-in-law who had passed away.

I took a deep breath and began to read the poem through tears. The dog came to sit by me, pressing against my leg. I was crying too hard and couldn’t finish reading the poem.

Not knowing what else to do, I passed the sheet of paper to Edna’s grandson. The dog moved to sit by him as he read.

He couldn’t finish the poem either and handed the paper to his sister, the veterinarian, who was also holding her daughter in her arms. The dog moved beside her as she finished reading the poem.

It took three of us, and a dog spirit, perhaps embodying the spirit of all the animals who loved Edna too, but we got it done.

I had never had a sister before.

Her passing left an incredible gaping wound that has never been filled or completely healed.


So, what are we left with?  Regrets and good memories.

I do regret that we didn’t find each other sooner and that our time on this earth together was only a short dozen years. She has been gone far longer than we had with each other, although our time together is still bright in my memory and seems both ageless and timeless.

I wish I had been able to spend more time with her. She invited me to see their new house several times, but I never went. I always expected to do it “soon” or someday and was waiting for the right opportunity to come along. I didn’t want to be an imposition. Someday isn’t a day on a calendar nor is it promised. I should have gone.

I regret not accepting a gift. Edna offered me some matchbook-size travel earring holders that she had made with plastic canvas and yarn. I did want one, but I didn’t want her to feel obligated to offer them to me after I had admired them, so I was reluctant to take one. She didn’t say anymore, and I’ve always regretted that I never accepted one and just said: “thank you.” She made them with her own hands and I would certainly cherish that today. I’ve always regretted that decision and I surely hope I didn’t hurt her feelings. Growing up poor and proud makes receiving anything difficult.

Edna provided an incredible amount of encouragement and inspiration. She was always my cheerleader and had more confidence in me than I did in myself.

She was never condemning or judgmental, but she was direct and said what she thought, and why. I always thought long and hard about whatever advice she proferred, and we often discussed why she felt the way she did. It was during those discussions that I learned about how both oppression and depression affect the lives of people, not just in one generation, but across many.

She laughed at life’s ups and downs and found amusement and humor in most places. She taught me to laugh at myself and view the world through the rose-colored glasses of humor. So much of life can’t be changed, but you can control your perception which in many cases determines your level of happiness.

For her conservative upbringing and lifestyle as a mother and farm wife, she was amazingly worldly and her opinions were ones not of repetitive tradition, but of thoughtful common sense. That book was not a product of the cover.

I made some exceedingly difficult, life-altering decisions and talked with her about each one.

She saw me through the tumultuous times associated with leaving Indiana and was always supportive of my decisions. She never doubted for one minute that I could and would succeed and assured me that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. It’s one thing when your parents tell you that – it’s quite another when someone else does.

Edna was firmly convinced that I didn’t need to have a man in my life, and the only reason a woman should ever marry (or otherwise take a partner) is because they want to. Never because society suggested that a woman needs a man in her life or a father for her children.

She advised against marrying the man I married, the one who couldn’t be bothered to attend Edna’s funeral to support his wife and daughter, although Edna supported my decision when I married him anyway. I wish I had listened because she was right. Her not-so-tongue-in-cheek recommendation was just to have some fun and not get too serious about much of anything.

She taught me about incredible courage in the face of devastation as she faced what needed to be done, bravely, with her mastectomies. A few years ago when I had breast surgery, I thought of her and knew that compared to what she underwent, mine was nothing. It’s because of her though that I’m extra vigilant. Yearly Mammograms are my friend.

Losing her at such a young age inspired me in yet another way. Edna was not thin. We don’t know what caused the blood clot that triggered her heart attack. It could have been cancer, which is known to cause blood clots, or it could have been related to her weight and related health issues. We have the same body type. I vowed to not repeat that pattern and took definitive action. I don’t want to follow in those footsteps if I can help it.

Edna loved her children and grandchildren intensely but suffered through some very difficult times with at least one of her children. Her understanding and sage advice continues to see me through a similarly devastating situation.

I am so grateful for her wisdom and that she so gracefully shared it with me.


The summer of 1990 served up several losses.

A couple of weeks after Edna’s death, my beloved cat, Savina, also passed on.

My step-father who I loved dearly was quite ill. We knew what was coming, just not when.

My marriage was shakey, although I didn’t realize quite how shakey it was at the time, and my children were teenagers experiencing their own trials and tribulations.

These deaths and transitions left me reeling with loss and facing the reality of mortality. Questions about what is important and about death itself reared their ugly heads.

It was years before I didn’t pick up the phone on Sunday “to call Edna” or conversely, thought, “Oh, I bet that’s Edna,” when the phone rang on Sunday afternoon.

In 1993, when my (then) husband had a massive stroke, my step-father died, and life further deteriorated, I desperately, desperately wanted to talk to my sister.

In August of 1990, my daughter and I took a week and went “up North” with Bagel the Beagle. We didn’t really have any planned destination. I was searching for some sort of peace and resolution.

My daughter was looking for a nice patch of sun on a beach. Bagel was just so happy to be with us.

I wrote and journaled every day and discovered a way to talk to Edna. I wrote reams, and designed two commemorative art pieces for her, which I later stitched.

One, titled “Proverbial Sampler”, is shown here. The bear paw design is a wink and a nod to our shared heritage and spirituality. Please take a minute and read the sayings behind the design. They say it all.

Edna is often with me, especially during creative or difficult times. I’ve learned to feel her presence. She is never far.

I realized in retrospect that she was with us at her funeral, via the dog, and that she is indeed with us if we need her, or just for company at other times. It’s not her presence or absence that’s the issue, but our ability to sense her spirit.

Of course, I still missed her, but I didn’t feel quite so abandoned and alone. I learned to love her in a new and different way.

The last part of the poem we read at her funeral sums it up pretty well.


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William Crumley’s Original 1792 Will Surfaces – 52 Ancestors #360

Sometimes late at night, just before I go to bed, I check MyHeritage for Record Hints and Ancestry for those little green leaf hints.

One recent midnight, I noticed a hint at Ancestry for William Crumley II. Of course, I have to have three William Crumley’s in a row in my tree.

Clicking on this hint revealed West Virginia Wills.

Of course, the first thing I noticed was that West Virginia wasn’t formed as a state until 1863, but I also know that counties and their earlier records “go with” their county into a new state. Berkeley County was formed from Frederick County, Virginia in 1772.

However, William Crumley II died between 1837 and 1840 in Lee County, Virginia, so I wasn’t very hopeful about this hint. Nonetheless, I clicked because, hey, you never know what you might discover. That’s why they’re called hints, right?

Hint 1 – The Will Book

I discovered the Berkeley County Clerk’s Will Book where William Crumley the first’s will had been dutifully copied into the Will Book on pages 185 and 186 after it was “proved” in court by witnesses on September 17, 1793. Witnesses who proved a will swore that they saw him sign the original and the will submitted was that same, unmodified, document.

This William Crumley is not William Crumley II, where this hint appeared, but his father, who did not have this hint.

I’ve been in possession of that will information for several years, so there was no new information here.

While I always read these wills, even when I have a typewritten published transcription, I know that the handwriting and the signature is not original to the person who wrote the will. The handwriting is that of the clerk.

To begin with, the signature of the deceased person can’t possibly be original after he died. William’s will was written and signed on September 30, 1792, almost exactly a year before it was probated on September 17, 1793. William was clearly ill and thinking about his family after his demise.

Given that court was held every three months, William likely died sometime between June and September of 1793.

I really wish Ancestry would not provide hints for a 1792/3 will for a man who died between 1837 and 1840.

My ancestor, William II who died in about 1840 is at least mentioned in his father’s will as a child. However, if I saved this will to William II from this hint, Ancestry would have recorded this event as his will, not the will of his father, so I declined this hint. I did, however, later connect this document to William I, even though Ancestry did NOT provide this document as a hint for him.

Hint 2 – 1764 Tax List

I clicked on the next green leaf hint for William II. A tax list for 1764. Nope, not him either given that William II wasn’t born for another three years.


Hint 3 – Executor’s Bond

Something else from Berkeley County attached to the wrong person, again.


What’s this one?

Executor’s bonds for William Crumley’s estate who died in 1793. Now this is interesting because the bond includes the signatures of the executors, including William’s wife Sarah. I got VERY excited until I remembered that Sarah was William’s second wife and not my ancestor.

Not to mention this record dated in 1793 is still being served up on the wrong William Crumley – the same-name son of the man who died in 1793.

Worse yet, these hints did NOT exist on the correct William Crumley the first who I wrote about, here.

Ok, fine.

There’s one more hint for William II before bedtime.

Hint 4 – Berkeley County AGAIN

What’s this one?

I saw that it was from Berkeley County and almost dismissed the hint without looking. By that time, I was tired and grumpy and somewhat frustrated with trying to save records to the right person and not the person for whom the hints were delivered.

Am I EVER glad that I didn’t just click on “Ignore.”

Accidental Gold

Staring at me was the ORIGINAL WILL of William Crumley the first in a packet of Loose Probate Papers from 1772-1885 that I didn’t even know existed. I thought I had previously exhausted all available resources for this county, but I clearly had not. I’m not sure the contemporary clerks even knew those loose records existed and even if they did, they probably weren’t indexed.

Thankfully, they’ve been both scanned and (partially) indexed by Ancestry. They clearly aren’t perfect, but they are good enough to be found and sometimes, that’s all that matters. I’d rather find a hint for the wrong person so I can connect the dots than no hint at all.

My irritation pretty much evaporated.

There’s additional information provided by Ancestry which is actually incorrect, so never presume accuracy without checking for yourself. The date they are showing as the probate date is actually the date the will was executed. If I were to save this record without checking, his death/probate would be shown as September 30, 1792. That’s clearly NOT the probate nor William’s death date.

Not to mention, there were many more than 3 additional people listed in this document. There was a wife, 15 children, and the 4 witnesses to the will itself. I actually found another two names buried in the text for a total of 22 people.

Always, always read the original or at least the clerk’s handwritten copy in the Will Book.

Originals are SELDOM Available

I’ve only been lucky enough to find original wills in rare cases where the will was kept in addition to the Will Book copy, a later lawsuit ensued, or the will surfaced someplace. The original will document is normally returned to the family after being copied into the book after being proven in court.

For some reason, William’s original will was retained in the loose papers that included the original estate inventory as well. That inventory was also copied into the will book a couple of months later. Unfortunately, I’ve never found the sale document which includes the names of the purchasers.

Normally, the original will is exactly the same as the clerk’s copy in the Will Book. It should be exact, but sometimes there are differences. Some minor and some important. The will book copy is normally exact or very close to a copy transcribed by someone years later. Every time something is copied manually, there’s an opportunity for error.

Therefore, I always, always read the will, meaning the document closest in person and in time to the original, just in case. You never know. I have discovered children who were omitted in later copies or documents.

In his will, William stated that he had purchased his plantation from his brother, John Crumley. Their father, James Crumley had willed adjoining patented land to his sons, John and William. I was not aware that William had purchased John’s portion, probably when John moved to South Carolina about 1790.

William states that his plantation should be sold by the executors. The purchaser was to make payments but the land “not to be given up to the purchaser till the 26th of March in the year 1795 which is the expiration of John Antram’s (?) lease upon it.” It’s unclear whether William was referring only to the plantation he purchased from John, or if he’s referring to the combined property that he received from his father and that he purchased from John as “his plantation.”

This also tells us that William clearly didn’t expect to live until the end of that lease. The fact that the land was leased was probably a result of his poor health even though he wasn’t yet 60 years old. This also makes me wonder how long he had been ill.

William also explicitly says he has 15 children, then proceeds to name them, one by one. Unfortunately for everyone involved, William’s youngest 10 children were all underage, with the baby, Rebecca, being born about 1792.

William probably wrote his will in his brick home, above, with a newborn infant crying in the background. Sarah, his wife must have been distraught, wondering what she would do and how she would survive with 10 mouths to feed, plus any of his older children from his first marriage who remained at home. The good news, if there is any, is that the older children could help. Sarah was going to need a lot of help!

I surely would love to know what happened to William.

I can close my eyes and see the men gathered together, sitting in a circle that September 30th in 1792. It was Sunday, probably after church and after “supper” which was served at noon. William might have been too ill to attend services.

Maybe one man was preparing a quill pen and ink at a table. William spoke thoughtfully, perhaps sitting on the porch or maybe even under the tree, and the man inked his feather and wrote. You could hear the feather scratch its way across the single crisp sheet of paper. William enunciated slow, measured words, conveying his wishes to the somber onlookers who would bear witness to what he said and that, at the end, when he was satisfied, they had seen him sign the document.

From time to time, someone would nod or clear their throat as William spoke. At one point, the scrivener made a mistake and had to scratch out a couple words. Or perhaps, it wasn’t the scrivener’s error. Maybe William misspoke or someone asked him if he really meant what he said. It’s heartbreaking to write your will with a house full of young children. He knew he was dying. Men of that place and time only wrote wills when they knew the end was close at hand.

Of course, we find the obligatory language about Sarah remaining his widow. He tried to provide for Sarah even after his death. Sarah was 15 years or so younger than William and died in 1809 when she was about 59 years old. Her baby would have been about 17 years old, so she was about 40 or so when William wrote his will and died, with a whole passel of kids.

William appointed one David Faulkner, probably related to his brother John’s wife, Hannah Faulkner, along with his wife, Sarah Crumley, as his executors. Sarah’s stepfather was Thomas Faulkner, who was also her bondsman. David may have been her brother, so William probably felt secure that Sarah’s interests would be looked after.

The selection of executors may tell us indirectly that son William Crumley II had already left for the next frontier, Greene County, TN. William II was listed on the Berkeley County tax list in 1789, but not again, suggesting he had already packed up and moved on, probably before his father became ill.

But here’s the best part, on the next page…William Crumley’s actual original signature.

I wonder if this was the last time he signed his name.

Signature Doppelganger

It’s extremely ironic that the signature of his son, William Crumley the second, looks almost identical to the signature of William the first, above. We know absolutely that this was the signature of the eldest William, and we know positively that later signatures in 1807 and 1817 in Greene County, Tennessee were his son’s.

This nearly identical signature of father and son suggests that perhaps William Crumley the eldest taught his son how to write.

The family was Quaker. We know William’s father, James Crumley was a rather roudy Quaker, and William the first married Quaker Sarah Dunn in 1774, after his first wife’s death. That marriage is recorded in the Quaker minutes because Sarah had married “contrary to discipline” which tells us that William Crumley was not at that time a Quaker, or had previously been dismissed.

Quakers were forbidden from many activities. If you were a Quaker, you couldn’t marry non-Quakers, marry a first cousin, marry your first spouse’s first cousin, marry your former husband’s half-uncle, administer oaths, do something unsavory like altering a note, purchase a slave, dance, take up arms, fight, game, move away without permission, encourage gambling by lending money, train or participate in the militia, hire a militia substitute, attend muster, or even slap someone. Every year, several people were “disowned” for these violations along with failing to attend meetings, failing to pay debts, moving away without settling business affairs, or helping someone else do something forbidden, like marry “contrary to discipline.” Heaven forbid that you’d attend one of those forbidden marriage ceremonies or worse yet, join the Baptists or Methodists!

It’s unknown if William returned to the Quaker Church although it’s doubtful, because in 1774 Sarah is listed as one of the persons “disowned” for marrying him, and there is no reinstatement note or date. Furthermore, in 1781, William was among the Berkeley County citizens who provided supplies for the use of the Revolutionary armies.

One certificate (receipt) dated September 30, 1781 indicated that he and three others, including his wife’s brother William Dunn and her stepfather Thomas Faulkner were entitled to 225 pounds for eleven bushels and a peck of wheat.

We also know that William Crumley owned a slave when he died and Quakers were prohibited from owning slaves based on the belief that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect. Regardless, many Quakers continued to own slaves but purchasing a slave, at least at Hopewell, caused you to be “disowned.”

Still, William may have sent his children to be educated at the Quaker school given that the Quaker school was the only educational option other than teaching your children yourself. Quaker schools were open to non-Quaker children. We know, based on the books ordered in the 1780s for local students in multiple languages that the school was educating and welcoming non-Quaker children too.

The Hopewell Quaker Meeting House (church) built an official schoolhouse in 1779, but it’s likely that school had been being conducted in the Meeting House before a separate school building was constructed. By that time, William Crumley the second would have been 12 years old and had likely already been taught the basics, perhaps by his father.

Of course, the William Crumley family at some point, probably in 1764 when William’s father James Crumley died, if not before, had moved up the road and across the county line to Berkeley County which was about seven and a half miles from the Hopewell Meeting House (and school). That was quite a distance, so William the first may have been instructing his own children, making sure they knew how to read and write and sign their names.

No wonder his son’s signature looks exactly like his.

Education and the Hopewell Meeting House

In 1934, the Hopewell Friends History was published to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the church which provided a great deal of historical information about the church itself, that part of Frederick County and the Quaker families. Unfortunately, the notes from 1734 to 1759 were lost when the clerk’s home burned, along with most of the 1795 minutes later.

Based on his will, William clearly placed a very high value on education. He instructed that his “widdow Sarah Crumley shall rays my children together to give them learning out of the profits that arises from my estate, the boys to read, write and cifer, the girls to read and write.” Apparently, females weren’t perceived to need “cifering.”

William himself would have attended school at Hopewell after his family moved from Chester County, PA in 1744 when he was 9 or 10 years old.

William’s children, following in his footsteps, may well have attended the Hopewell School or perhaps another brick school that existed near White Hall, about halfway between The Crumley home and the Hopewell Meeting House, although it’s unclear exactly when that school was established.

Many Quakers mentioned in the 1800s in the church notes are buried at what is now the White Hall United Methodist Church on Apple Pie Ridge Road. The earliest burial there with a stone is 1831 which seems to be when headstones began to be used in the area.

William also directed his funeral expenses to be paid, of course, and his executors sold a steer to pay for his coffin.

It’s doubtful that William is buried here, in the Hopewell Cemetery, unless he reconciled with the church. William’s parents are most likely buried here. His father, James, died in 1764 and his mother, Catherine, died about 1790. William would have gazed across this cemetery as a child attending services and stood here during many funerals, possibly including the service of his own first wife, Hannah Mercer, and perhaps some of their children.

I wonder if it ever occurred to him as a child that he might one day rest here himself.

No early marked graves remain before the 1830s, but people had been buried here for a century in unmarked graves by that time.

I can’t help but think of William the first, as a child, probably attending school in this building, peering out these windows, after his family moved from Pennsylvania in the early 1740s. He worshiped here on Sundays. Perhaps his son, William II and his older children attended school here some three decades later.

This stately tree in the cemetery was likely a sapling when William was a young man.

Given that William seems to have left the Quaker Church, willingly or otherwise sometime before 1774 and probably before 1759, it’s much more likely that William is buried in the cemetery right across the road from his home in an unmarked grave adjacent and behind what is now the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church.

I don’t know, but I’d wager that this is the old Crumley family cemetery.

Perhaps William was the first person to be buried here, or maybe his first wife or one of his children. His brother, John, may have buried children here too.

Almost Too Late

Thank goodness William’s original will was microfilmed when it was, because the pages were torn and had to be carefully unfolded and repaired. William’s will might have been beyond saving soon. After all, his will had been folded several times and stored in what was probably a metal document box, just waiting to be freed, for more than 225 years.

There is information on these original documents that just isn’t available elsewhere.

It’s interesting to note the legal process that took place when wills were brought to court when someone died. The clerk wrote on the back of the will, below William’s signature, on what would likely have been the outside of the folded document that the will had been proven in open court (OP), he had recorded and examined the will and that the executors had complied with the law and a certificate was granted to them.

I believe the bottom right writing is No. 2 Folio 185 which correlated to the book and page.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that William’s original will still exists and got tucked away for posterity. I’m ever so grateful to Mr. Hunter, that long-deceased Clerk of Court who is responsible for resurrecting William’s signature, the only tangible personal item of William’s left today, save for a few DNA segments in his descendants.

Flowers, looking into the window of the Hopewell Meeting House.


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Sarah Rash’s and Perhaps Mary Warren’s Mitochondrial DNA – 52 Ancestors #359

Using the FamilySearch “Relatives at RootsTech” app that was available in the month or so surrounding RootsTech (but not now), I connected with a cousin who is a direct matrilineal descendant of Sarah Rash, our common ancestor.

My cousin, who descends through Sarah’s daughter Rhoda Shepherd, very kindly agreed to take a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test so we now have information about Sarah Rash’s matrilineal origins.

I wrote about Sarah Rash and what we know of her life in Sarah Rash (1748-1829), Church Founder and Grandmother of Nearly 100.

Mitochondrial DNA Inheritance

Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Therefore, mitochondrial DNA is never divided, watered down or mixed with the DNA of the father. Mitochondrial DNA provides an invaluable periscope view directly back in time for our matrilineal ancestors – our direct mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line on up our tree.

Sarah Rash was born to Joseph Rash and wife, Mary, purportedly Mary Warren.  Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA also belongs to her mother Mary. That would be Mary Warren if indeed Mary Warren is Sarah’s mother. Mary Warren’s parents are unknown. However, there is a Warren family in Spotsylvania County, VA, where the Rash family lived in that timeframe.


My goals for seeking a mitochondrial DNA test for Sarah Rash’s descendant are:

  • To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant, preferably through another daughter or sister of Sarah.
  • To learn what we can from Sarah’s haplogroup. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • To gather evidence to confirm or perhaps disprove that Sarah’s mother is Mary Warren.
  • To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time.

The Process

Several people have asked me to step through the analysis process that I use for mitochondrial DNA results, so let’s do that.

What can we tell about Sarah’s ancestors through her mitochondrial DNA?.

Sarah’s Matrilineal Line is Not Native

Sometimes when the mother of an early pioneer settler can’t be identified, the “go-to” assumption is that she might be Native American.

Sarah’s haplogroup is U5a2a1d which is definitely NOT Native.

We can dispel this thought permanently.

Since Sarah’s matrilineal ancestors aren’t Native, where are they from?

Where Are Sarah’s Ancestors From?

Using the public mitochondrial tree, here, we see the following countries displayed for haplogroup U5a2a1d.

Sarah’s haplogroup is found most often in the US, which means brick-walled here, followed by England, Ireland, and less-frequent other locations. Note that two people claim Native, the feather, but that can mean either they are mistaken, or they have entered information for their mother’s “side” of the family or their literal “oldest ancestor,” not their specific matrilineal line.

Regardless, haplogroup U is unquestionably not Native.

Matches Map

Sometimes the matches map, which shows the geographic locations of your matches’ most distant matrilineal linear ancestor is very informative, but not so in this case.

Of 74 full sequence matches, only 4, plus the tester whose pin is white, have entered the locations of their matrilineal ancestors.

One of these contains a male name, so we know that’s incorrect.

This is really sad – a wasted opportunity. Imagine how useful this could be with 74 pins instead of 4, and one of those being recorded incorrectly.


The mutations tab shows you the mutations you have that are either extra or missing from your haplogroup assignment. This means that these may be combined in the next version of the haplotree to form a new haplogroup.

My cousin has 5 extra mutations, but at least three of those are in unstable areas that I’m sure will not be utilized as haplogroup-forming. The other two mutations are insertions at one single location and I doubt those will be used either.

I wrote about haplogroup formation in the article, Mitochondrial DNA: Part 3 – Haplogroups Unraveled, including a list of unstable and common mutations. Suffice it to say that very common locations like 16519 and 315 insertions aren’t useful to form haplogroups. Some very common mutations, such as insertions at locations 309 and 315 and deletions at 522 and 523 aren’t even counted in matching/differences.

What these unstable mutations actually tell me, relative to Sarah Rash’s DNA is that I need to pay attention to the GD1 (genetic distance of 1) matches, meaning people who have only one mutation difference from my cousin. Given that my cousin’s extra mutations, differences from her defined haplogroup, are in unstable regions, close matches such as GD1 or even GD2 could be quite relevant. It all depends on the difference.

Of course, we can’t see the mutations of the people my cousin matches, so those with a GD1 or GD2 may have mutations on a stable marker that my cousin doesn’t have.


My cousin has a total of 74 full sequence matches, of which 31 are exact matches, 18 have trees and 12 have listed an earliest known ancestor (EKA). If you haven’t done so, here’s how to enter your EKA.

Of course, the EKA of my cousin’s matches may or may not agree with the earliest matrilineal person in their tree. And the tree may or may not have more than one or two people. Regardless, every hint is worth follow-up.

Think of these as diamonds in the rough.


I viewed the trees of each of the matches that have uploaded trees. I also made a list of the earliest known ancestors for matches that didn’t have trees so I could be cognizant of watching for those names.

Many trees only had a few generations, but I used Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and WikiTree to see if I could reasonably complete the tree back a little further. Of these, I particularly like WikiTree because I think it tends to be more accurate AND it allows for people to enter that they carry the mitochondrial DNA of specific ancestors. As it turns out, no one has done that for Sarah Rash, or her purported mother, Mary Warren, but if they had, it would provide a confirmation opportunity.

I did find something quite interesting.

Who is Jane Davis?

The EKA of Elizabeth, one of my cousin’s matches, is Jane Davis who was born in 1690.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not upload a GEDCOM file or create a tree, so I turned to other trees elsewhere to see what I could unearth about Jane Davis.

I need to state emphatically that what I’m about to tell you needs to be taken with the entire salt lick, not just a grain.

Remember, we’re looking for hints and evidence here, not foregone conclusions – although admittedly, those would be nice.

According to (cringe) some trees, Jane Davis was the wife of one William Warren who was born 1678 in Surry County, VA and died on September 29, 1764 in Edgecombe County, NC. I have not confirmed any of this. Gathering evidence is the first step in the process.

IF this is accurate, William Warren and Jane Davis may be the parents of Mary Warren, the purported mother of Sarah Rash.

Notice all of those weasel words – if, may, purported. That’s where we have to start. In weaselworld.

Obviously, this needs a LOT of traditional genealogy work, but here’s the great news…I now have something to work with and someone else, Elizabeth, who appears one way or another to be descended from this line.

The Good News

Whether or not Jane Davis is accurate or not, I’d wager that we are looking at the same line because Elizabeth matches my cousin’s mitochondrial DNA. I need to email Elizabeth to see if she descends through Sarah Rash. If so, that’s confirmation of this line.

If not, and she descends through a daughter of someone else in this same line, like one of Mary Warren’s sisters, that’s evidence and a HUGE HINT that I can use to confirm Mary Warren as the mother of Sarah Rash. Confirming her mother would also confirm that Mary’s father is William Warren – so would provide evidence for both of Sarah’s parents.

Additional Tools – Advanced Matches

Next, I used Advanced Matches to query for anyone who matches at both the full sequence level and in Family Finder. There were no matches, which doesn’t surprise me since it’s quite a way back in time.

Notice that the link to upload a family tree is in this section, along with the public haplotree I used earlier.

Family Finder

Checking my cousin’s Family Finder matches and searching for surnames, I immediately checked for myself and my known cousins from that line. No cigar, but our common ancestor is many generations in the past.

Checking the Rash surname for my cousin shows a match to someone who descends from Joseph Rash’s brother, William Rash whose children also migrated to Claiborne County, TN along with Sarah Rash’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd who married William McNiel.

My cousin has numerous autosomal matches to the McNiel line as well. The Vannoy, McNiel, Shepherd, and Rash lines were all found in Wilkes County, NC together before migrating to Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee. Before Wilkes County, the Rash, Warren, and McNiel families were in Spotsylvania and nearby counties in Virginia.

Goal Fulfillment

How did we do fulfilling our original goals?

Goal Comment
To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant. Perhaps – We have that lead to follow up on with Elizabeth and her EKA of Jane Davis. We also have several relevant autosomal matches.
To learn what we can learn from her haplogroup. Yes – Not Native and probably from England or Ireland. That is useful and makes sense.
To confirm her mother as Mary Warren. We now have hints and tools. We need to hear what Elizabeth has to say. I may be able to extract more information by viewing trees individually with people my cousin matches on Family Finder.
To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time. We now have a great hint and information to work with, both mitochondrial and autosomal. Jane Davis may be the wife of William Warren, which might well confirm Mary Warren as the daughter of William Warren. It’s too soon to tell but my fingers are crossed for a descendant of Jane Davis from a different daughter through all females.

Sometimes answers come in a gulley-washer, and other times, we have to dig and sift over time for the gems. Let’s create a plan.

What’s Next?

There’s a lot we can do, but maybe one of the best places to start would be to attempt to assemble information about the Warren families of Spotsylvania County, VA. This Thomas Warren might be a good place to begin or maybe work my way up from Mary Warren, here.

I need to focus on both traditional genealogy and genetic autosomal matches at all of the vendors. My cousin’s DNA is only at FamilyTreeDNA, but my results and those of several other cousins are found at several vendors.

I can use Genetic Affairs’ tools to see if I cluster with other people descended from the Warren family. My cousin can set up an account and do the same thing if she wishes. AutoTree and AutoKinship may help with that.

Using traditional genealogy, if I can identify other sisters of Mary Warren (daughters of Jane Davis,) I can ask people descended from them through all females to take a mitochondrial DNA test. If they match my cousin, that’s an exceptionally compelling piece of evidence.

Of course, I can do more work on the mitochondrial DNA matches we already have by emailing and asking for genealogy information. The piece of evidence we need might be right under our noses.

The Warren Family

If you descend from a Warren family in the Spotsylvania County area in the 1600s through 1700s, would you please check your matches to see if you have me, Vannoy, McNiel, McNeil, Rash or Shepherd matches? I’d love to narrow this down.

If you descend through all females from William Warren or another Warren family who would have been having children in the Spotsylvania County from about 1710 to maybe 1740, would you please reach out to me? If we can pinpoint a likely family for Mary Warren who was reportedly born in 1726, I’d love to do a confirming mitochondrial DNA test.


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Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Proprietor of a Tavern, Restaurant, Railroad Depot Office & Cigar Store – 52 Ancestors #358

Barbara Drechsel, wife of Jacob Kirsch never wanted to own a tavern. It’s nothing she ever aspired to. In fact, she may not have wanted to own it, even when she did. And she assuredly did NOT want to own it quite the way it unfolded.

It pays to keep in touch with friends at the historical society. Jenny messaged me this week with the original deed by which Barbara came into possession of the Kirsch House which included the actual house where the family lived, hotel, restaurant, bar, cigar store, and railroad ticket office.

The Deed

The outside of the document stated that this was a warranty deed conveying property from Jacob Kirsch to Barbara Kirsch and was recorded on March 28, 1887 at 9 in the morning. Jacob acknowledged that he executed the deed.

Seems simple enough, right?

The flip side is the actual original deed itself, complete with Jacob’s signature! Hurray!!! Original deeds are not kept by the county clerk, but copied by hand into the deed book.

I have absolutely no idea how the original deed came to be held at the local museum, but I’m exceedingly grateful that it did. Barbara Kirsch sold the Kirsch house some 34 years later, in 1921, and eventually went to Wabash to live with her daughter. Somehow, the deed found its way to the historical society a century after Barbara sold the Kirsch House.

The Deed is “Unusual”

This document itself was very…um…unusual.

To begin with, Jacob and Barbara were husband and wife. They were married in 1866, bought the Kirsch House property in 1875, had several children, and no, they did not get divorced. That was my first thought too.

I originally found the recording of the deed back in 1989 or 1990, but I had never seen the actual deed itself, nor the additional information it contained.

To begin with, Jacob states that he conveyed the property to Barbara for the sum of $10,000. Wow! I assumed it has been for the standard $1 and love, but it’s not. I wonder why not?

No place does it say that Barbara is Jacob’s wife. For a few years, I wondered if there was some mistake. But no, there’s no mistake.

Did money actually change hands? Doubtful. Where would Barbara Drechsel Kirsch have obtained $10,000 that was hers alone? Both of her parents were still living, so there was no inheritance.

What was going on?

What Does the Deed Say?

Being the ? part of in lots two hundred and eighty (280) and two hundred and eighty five (285) in the City of Aurora and bounded as follows towit: <metes and bounds>

My eyes kind of glaze over the metes and bounds when city lots are described, because I already know quite well where this property is located. Not to mention this handwriting is atrocious.

The interesting part followed the land description.

Also the following described personal property towit: All the household, dining room and kitchen furniture now contained in the house situate in the above described real estate; also all the barroom and office furniture, fixtures, liquors, cigars and all pertaining to the bar and office on said premises.

In other words, not just the Kirsch House itself, but the tavern, hotel, restaurant, cigar store, and railroad office business within the Kirsch House. Jacob also sold fine cigars and liquor, and now Barbara did too.

The 1880s ushered in the golden age of Cigars. Smoking cigars was considered very cultured, gentlemanly, and desirable. Trimming and lighting a cigar appropriately was an art in and of itself. Was Barbara a cigar aficionado? And a bartender when necessary? I bet she was.

This wasn’t just a formality. Barbara took her ownership very seriously as illustrated by her stationery.

In the newspapers over the next few years, I found a few mentions of Jacob as proprietor – muscle memory or an assumption on the part of the reporters perhaps, but eventually, I found stationery with Barbara’s name listed as proprietor.

Jacob died in 1917 and after that, everyone would have known Barbara owned the property and not thought anything of it under those circumstances. I’d wager most everyone knew about the 1887 transaction as well, because, everyone but EVERYONE knew about “the incident.”

The townspeople all might have known then, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I discovered the back story because, by the time Mom came along, no one discussed what had happened in 1886.

It had become an intentionally forgotten dark little secret.

The 1886 Drama

Jacob Kirsch was involved in a lynching in 1886, specifically on August 19th. This lynching probably isn’t exactly what you think when you think of a lynching.

A white man described in the newspaper as a “tramp bricklayer” by the name of William F. Watkins became drunk on the job (again) and was dismissed from a construction site in Aurora. He returned, even drunker, and stabbed Louis Hilbert, the man who had fired him, four times. The victim died on the spot – and the stabbing itself was witnessed by several men. That attack was calculated, intentional, cold-blooded murder.

Louis Hilbert was a well-liked and respected local contractor and a group of men attending the summer farmer’s fair caught and restrained Watkins, waiting for the constable. The crowd quickly grew, saw Hilbert’s lifeless bodying laying in a pool of his own blood, and became further enraged.

Watkins was taken to the local coal yard of the distillery a couple of blocks away and hanged from a derrick by a crowd of hundreds. Watkins was dead 20 minutes or so after he had killed Hilbert.

No criminal charges were filed against anyone.

February 26, 1887

Jacob signed the deed conveying the property to Barbara on February 26th of the following year. Apparently, even though neither criminal charges nor a civil lawsuit hadn’t been filed, Jacob knew something was in the offing.

Jacob was only 46 years old and a sharpshooter, but his signature looks shaky. Was he trembling when he signed?

March 3, 1887

On March 3, 1887, the Indianapolis, Indiana newspaper reported that a suit was initiated in Federal Court in Indianapolis by Watkins’s heirs against a group of men accused of murdering Watkins. The amount of the damages claimed was $10,000. The actual complaint was filed on March 2, 1887.

March 17, 1887

On March 17, 1887, the administrator of William Watkins’ estate filed a document in the suit against several men in the death of Watkins detailing their allegations and demands.

March 28, 1887

The deed between Jacob and Barbara was recorded.

It’s interesting that the amount of the transaction is $10,000, the same amount as the lawsuit’s demand. However, the lawsuit named several defendants in addition to Jacob. Perhaps the thought was that $10,000 was the MOST that could be found against Jacob (or anyone) – although at the time of the conveyance the suit had not been filed. Ironically, that deed would have confirmed to Watkins’s attorney that Jacob did have $10,000. Clearly, this conveyance was designed to protect the Kirsch House from the lawsuit and limit the damage to no more than $10,000 which was equivalent to over $300,000 in today’s dollars.

Of course, it’s possible that the deed was backdated to before the lawsuit was filed, given that it wasn’t recorded until March 28th. However, a notary witnessed Jacob’s signature on February 26th. Was that normal at that time? There’s no way to know without looking at other original deeds and original deeds are not generally available.

May 23, 1889

Two years later, Jacob offered to settle for $5, which Watkin’s attorney refused. The parties agreed to a trial without a jury, and the judge found in favor of the defendants. The Kirsch House would have been safe, but Barbara owned the Kirsch House, and everything in it, for the remainder of her life.

Barbara was no hands-off owner. She ran the establishment both before and after Jacob’s death – through a litany of tragedies described in this article about her life.

In fact, Barbara ran the Kirsch House just as any man of the time would have done, with one exception. A man would not have also done all the cooking and cleaning for both the family and the guests.

I can’t help but wonder why the property was never deeded back to Jacob after the legal jeopardy had passed.

A Female Proprietor

A female proprietor was unheard of – but Barbara did what she needed to do, although the couple appeared to have run the establishment together as long as Jacob was able. I know for sure he tended bar, at least from time to time.

Jacob and Barbara are pictured above in a colorized photo (thank you MyHeritage) sometime between 1905 and 1909.

Jacob had an unfortunate hunting accident in October of 1892 where he was shot in the side of his head. He was expected to die, but miraculously lived. The wound badly damaged his ear and face, and cost him his eye. He was fitted with a glass eye which he would pop out at will and scare the neighborhood children who came to visit with him as he sat outside under the awning in front of the Kirsch House.

Jacob was never the same, and if Barbara wasn’t already shouldering the majority of the responsibility for the Kirsch House, she assuredly was after the gunshot wound.

Surprisingly, Jacob continued competitive trap shooting after his accident with amazing success, winning a tri-state championship in the 1890s. Jacob progressively slowed down and his health declined until his death of stomach cancer in 1917. Barbara’s responsibilities increased.

The Kirsch House advertisements during this time read, “The house is pleasantly situated near the railroad depot and will be found the most desirable place in the city of Aurora at which to stop. Good wines, liquors, and cigars.”

I can’t help but wonder if the Kirsch House sported the obligatory stereotypical Cigar Store Indian, perched perhaps outside on the sidewalk or near the ticket window. The Cigar Store Indian became a very effective form of visual advertisement.

How did Jacob actually feel about Barbara owning the Kirsch House and all the contents? Was it perhaps a private joke between them, or conversely, no laughing matter.

The Kirsch House Back Then

When Mom, my daughter, and I visited the Kirsch House in the late 1980s, almost exactly a hundred years after Jacob signed the deed to Barbara, the building was 130-140 years old, built in the 1850s, and not in good repair.

The original bar was still present and functioning, and on the top of the bar was decoupaged a postcard from yesteryear.

You could see the public entry doors, at left, leading into the bar and public dining room, the barroom window advertising “Fine Cigars” and the family entrance into the parlor, at right. Guest rooms were located on the second floor.

Another view shows the depot and the black window, by the horse’s head, where train tickets were sold and freight shipped. That would have been the office referenced by Jacob in the deed.

The Kirsch house functioned as both a ticket seller for people and for shipping freight too. The door showing near the pole, at right, was the easy quick entrance into the restaurant/bar for thirsty travelers while they waited for their train.

The Brick

During our visit, Mom found a brick that had fallen out of the wall of the Kirsch House, then known by a different name, when a window had been replaced. Mom asked if she could have the brick that was laying in the alleyway.

I took a photo of the postcards on the bar, and Mom asked her friend to paint the Kirsch House, with its celebrated awning over the sidewalk and neighboring depot on the brick.

Mom loved the result.

This painted brick lived with Mom for many years and now resides with me.

As of December 2021, the Kirsch House building is once again being repaired and restored, granted another chapter in its long life. Barbara, the 34-year proprietor, would be quite pleased that her Kirsch House lives on.


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Dorcas Johnson’s Mitochondrial DNA Secret Revealed – 52 Ancestors #357

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus) Johnson was born about 1750 and died about 1835. We know she died in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but the location of her birth has always been assumed to be Virginia.

You know there’s already trouble brewing when you read that assume word, right?

Dorcas, in the early genealogies, was reported to be the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, but always a skeptic, I had my doubts. I’m working through the various options to prove or disprove that connection. I wrote about my initial findings, here.

What we do know, positively, about Dorcas is that she married Jacob Dobkins in Dunmore County, Virginia, in 1775. There’s no date listed, but it is shown between the September and October marriages.

Dunmore County was renamed as Shenandoah a few years later, so all of the early Dunmore County records aren’t “missing,” they are Shenandoah County records.

Dorcas and Jacob migrated to eastern Tennesee, probably before Tennessee was even a state n the 1790s, settling in Jefferson County on the White Horn Branch of Bent Creek, Near Bull’s Gap. By 1800, they had moved once again to the fledgling Claiborne County when it was first formed. Dorcas Johnson and Jacob Dobkins spent the rest of their lives in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Johnson Books

Peter Johnson’s descendants wrote several early books in the 1900s about that family, specifically focused on the child they descended from. More recently, Eric E. Johnson wrote a book where he distilled the earlier books and added a great deal of original research compiled over decades. Eric has very graciously shared and I am ever so grateful for his generosity.

Dorcas’s Siblings

Not all early books report the same children for Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, so I’ve prepared a composite list of children, as follows:

  • Richard (Derrick, Derrie) Johnson (1746-1818) married Dorcas Dungan in Pennsylvania and later, Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County, PA. Richard was born in Cumberland County, PA and died in Jefferson County, Ohio.
  • Dorcas Johnson (c1748/1750 – c1831/1835) married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 in Dunmore/Shenandoah County. Dorcas is reported in one of the early Johnson books and was reported to have married Reuben Dobkins. She married Reuben’s brother, Jacob. Jacob’s other brother, Evan Dobkins, married one Margaret Johnson, earlier in 1775 in the same location where Dorcas married. However, Margaret Johnson is not listed in any of the Johnson books.
  • James Johnson (1752-1826), was born in Pennsylvania and died in Lawrence County, Illinois after having lived in Indiana for some time. He married Elizabeth Lindsay in 1783.
  • Solomon Johnson (1765-1843), apparently the youngest child was born near Greencastle, Cumberland (now Franklin) County, Pennsylvania and died in Forward Township, Allegheny County, PA. He inherited his father’s land and married the neighbor, Frances (Fanny) Warne in 1790. It was Solomon’s Bible records that provided Peter Johnson’s wife’s name as Mary Philips. It’s worth noting that Solomon named a daughter, Dorcas, and the Dorcas Johnson who married Jacob Dobkins named a son Solomon.

Two other sources report Peter’s wife’s first name as Polly which is a well-known nickname for Mary. The only source for Mary Polly Phillips’ surname is the Solomon Johnson Bible.

Four additional daughters are reported with much less specific information available.

  • Mary Johnson – Nothing known.
  • Polly Johnson – Nothing known, although it has been speculated that Mary and Polly were one person, and possibly Richard’s only child by his first wife that Peter Johnson and Mary/Polly Philips took to raise when Richard’s wife died. If this is the case, then Mary would have been born about 1768 and can therefore NOT be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins in 1775.
  • Rebecca Johnson, possibly born about 1762. One book states that Rebecca married John Stephens or Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia but nothing more is known. This same source states that Stephens served with Richard Johnson in the Revolutionary War, although that could be militia duty. This line needs to be fleshed out and could prove critical. What happened to Rebecca Johnson?
  • Rachel Johnson is reported to have married a John Dobkins and possibly moved to Knox County, Indiana, but nothing more is known. Jacob Dobkins’ brother, John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman. It’s possible that there’s an unknown brother, or Rachel is the Johnson daughter who married Reuben Dobkins. Dorcas was reported to have married Reuben, but she married Jacob.

In the various Johnson books, two Johnson daughters are reported to have married Dobkins men, and indeed, that’s exactly what happened, but the first names don’t match exactly

If indeed Dorcas Johnson is the full sibling of Mary, Polly, Rebecca or Rachel Johnson, they would carry the same mitochondrial DNA passed to them from their mother – which they in turn would have passed on.

This means that if we can locate someone descended from those daughters through all females to the current generation (which can be male), their mitochondrial DNA should match at the full sequence level.

In summary, we know very little about Mary Polly Philips herself. We don’t know who her parents were, nor if she had siblings. We also don’t really know how many children, specifically daughters, she had.

Where Did Mary Polly Philips Come From?

One of the books reports that Mary Polly Philip’s son, Richard, born in 1746, also known as Derrie, was born in Amsterdam. We know this cannot be true because Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were already living in Antrim Township of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania by 1742 when he obtained a land grant.

However, since Derrie is a Dutch nickname for Richard, the story that Dorcas was Dutch, or spoke Dutch, may have originated from this nickname. This does beg the question of how Richard obtained that nickname.

The Pennsylvania Dutch settled heavily in Cumberland County where the couple is first found, so it’s possible that Mary Polly may have spoken German. Regardless, one of the family histories states that she didn’t speak English when she married Peter Johnson which raises the question of how they communicated.

Of course, this is confounding given that many early genealogies suggest or state that they were either Scottish, Scots-Irish or Welsh. One history suggests that Peter settled at Wilmington, Delaware, then lived at Head of Elk, Maryland which are both Swedish settlements.

Peter Johnson was supposed to have a brother James and they were both supposed to be from Scotland, with noble peerage, nonetheless.

And another report had Peter sailing from Amsterdam where he had been born.

Clearly these can’t all be true.

Bottom line is this – we don’t know anything about where either Peter or his wife’s families originated. The first actual data we have is Peter’s 1742 land grant in Cumberland County, PA, an area settled by both the Germans and Scots-Irish.

We have a real mystery on our hands.

Not to mention that we still don’t know positively that the Dorcas reported in Peter Johnson’s line who married a Reuben Dobkins is the same person as “my” Dorcas who married Jacob Dobkins. However, given the autosomal matches, I’m quite comfortable at this point, between both documentary and genetic evidence, in confidently adding Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips as Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ parents.

Well, that is, unless someone or something proves me wrong.

One thing is abundantly clear, if Dorcas isn’t their daughter, she’s related to them in some fashion because many of Peter Johnson’s descendants and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants match and triangulate when comparing autosomal DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA

Dorcas Johnson inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother, whoever that was, who inherited it from her mother, on up the line.

Mitochondrial DNA is never mixed with the DNA of the father, so it’s never divided or diluted. In other words, except for an occasional mutation, it’s passed intact from mothers to all of their children. However, only females pass it on.

In the current generation, males can take a mitochondrial DNA test so long as they descend through all females from the ancestor whose mitochondrial DNA is being sought. In other words, their mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree through all mothers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find two direct descendants of Dorcas Johnson Dobkins through all female lines (different daughters) who were kind enough to take a mitochondrial DNA test.

Not only did they match each other, they also matched other people at the full sequence level.

What did we discover?


Dorcas’s descendants were determined to be haplogroup H2a1, a European haplogroup found dispersed widely across Europe.

This can put to rest any speculation about Native American heritage which often arises when a woman’s parents are unknown.

What Information Can Be Gleaned from the Haplogroup Alone?

Using the public mitochondrial DNA tree, we can see that H2a1 is found in 57 countries as identified by testers’ earliest known ancestor (EKA) entries.

This is one reason why it’s important to enter earliest ancestor information (under the gear when you mouse over your name in the upper right-hand corner, under Genealogy in Account Settings.)

But that’s not the only reason to enter as much information as possible. Everyone helps everyone else in genetic genealogy by providing complete information, or as complete as possible.


Dorcas’s descendants who took the mitochondrial DNA test have a total of 299 HVR1, HVR2 and Coding Region matches. Today, testers can only order the mtFull product which tests the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria. Years back, people could order a partial test that only tested part of the mitochondria, called the HVR1 (HVR=Hypervariable Region) or the combined HVR1 & HVR2 regions.

You can select to view matches at the full sequence level, or people you match at the HVR1 or HVR2 level which will include people who did not take the higher mtFull test.

While some people are inclined to ignore their HVR1 and HVR2 results, I don’t because I’m always on the hunt for someone with a common ancestor or other useful information who did NOT test at the full sequence level.

You just never know where you’re going to find that critical match so don’t neglect any potential place to find leads.

To begin, I’m focusing on the full sequence matches that have a genetic distance of 0. GD0 simply means those testers match exactly with no mutations difference.

My cousin has 9 exact matches.

Matilda Holt is Dorcas’s granddaughter.

I viewed the trees for the closest matches and added some additional info.

I viewed the trees, worked several back in time, and found a few other testers who also descend from Dorcas.

One match remains a tantalizing mystery.

Bobby’s line hits a dead-end in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but I cannot connect the dots in Dorcas’s line.

Evan Dobkins, Jacob’s brother who married Margaret Johnson lived in Washington County, VA until the 1790s, but reportedly died in Claiborne County about 1835. Bobby’s EKA could be a grandchild of Dorcas that is previously unknown. She could also be the granddaughter of Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. I traced his line back to a woman born in 1824 and noted as Catherine Brooks in her marriage to Thomas Brooks in 1847. The Brooks family were close neighbors and did intermarry with the Dobkins family.

I emailed my cousin’s other matches; Karen, Catherine, Leotta, and Betty, and heard back from only one with no information.

With no earliest known ancestor, no tree, and no reply, I’m stuck on these matches, at least for now.

Let’s take a look at the GD1 matches, meaning those with one mutation difference and see what we can find there.

GD1 Matches

My cousin has 36 GD1 matches, meaning one mutation difference. Might they be useful?

Hmmm, well, here’s something interesting. With one exception, these earliest known ancestors certainly are not English, Welsh or Scots-Irish. They also aren’t German or Dutch.

I attempted to build a tree for Sarah Anna Wilson who was born in 1823 and died in 1858, but without additional information, I quickly ran into too much ambiguity.

Maybe there’s better information in the rest of the GD1 matches’ earliest known ancestors.

These people all look to be…Scandinavian?

Let’s take a look at the Matches Map.

Matches Map

On the matches map, only a few of the 36 GD1 matches filled in the location of their earliest known ancestor. This can be done on either the matches map, or when you complete the earliest known ancestor information.

Exact matches are red, and GD1, 1 step matches, are orange.

All 10 of the GD1 matches that have completed their locations are found in Scandinavia, one in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, with the rest concentrated in Finland.

In fact, the largest cluster anyplace is found in Finland, with a second pronounced cluster along the eastern side of Sweden.

Generally speaking, the green 3-step matches would be “older” or more distant than the yellow 2-step matches that would be older than the orange one-step matches which would be older than the red exact matches.

What Does This Mean?

I’d surely like more data. Scandinavian testers are wonderful about entering their EKA information, as compared to many US testers, but I’d still like to see more. Some show ancestors but no location, and some show nothing evident.

I’m going to dig.

Where Can I Find More Info?

For each person, I’m going to utilize several resources, as follows:

  • Trees on FamilyTreeDNA (please, let there be trees)
  • Earliest known ancestor (EKA)
  • Ancestry/MyHeritage/FamilySearch to extend trees or location locations for listed ancestors
  • Email address on tester’s profile card
  • Google their name, ancestor or email
  • Social media
  • Surnames/locations on their FamilyTreeDNA profile card
  • WikiTree/Geni and other publicly available resources

Even just the email address of a tester can provide me with a country. In this case, Finland. If the tester lives in Finland today, there’s a good chance that their ancestor was from Finland too.

Sometimes the Ancestral Surnames provide locations as well.

Search everyplace.

Create A New Map

Using Google My Maps, a free tool, I created a new map with only the GD1 matches and the location information that I unearthed.

I found at least general (country level) locations for a total of 30 of 36 GD1 matches. Ten are the locations provided by the testers on the Matches Map, but I found an additional 26. All of the locations, with one exception, were found in either Finland or Sweden. One was found in Denmark.

Some locations were the same for multiple testers, but they did not have the same ancestors.

While I’m still missing 6 GD1 match locations, with one exception noted previously, the names of the matches look Scandinavian as well.

This message is loud and clear.

Dorcas’s ancestors were Scandinavian before they came to the US. There’s no question. And likely from Finland.


So, maybe Dorcas really didn’t speak English.

But if she didn’t speak English, how did she communicate with her Scottish or Scots-Irish or maybe Dutch husband? The language of love only suffices under specific circumstances😊

And how did they get to Pennsylvania?

But wait?

Didn’t one of the family histories suggest that Peter Johnson was from Wilmington, Delaware and then from Head of Elk, now Elkton, Maryland?

Weren’t those both Swedish settlements?

Head of Elk, Maryland

Sure enough, Head of Elk, Maryland was settled by Swedish mariners and fishermen from Fort Casimir, Delaware, now New Castle, in 1694 – just 15 miles or so upriver.

Here, moving right to left, we see Fort Casmir, Delaware, then Elkton, Maryland, followed by the location on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania where Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips settled in 1742.

One of those early Johnson books says that Peter Johnson spent some time in Frederick County, Virginia which would be near Winchester, Virginia, halfway between 1742 and 1775 on the map. However, many modern researchers discount that and presume that Virginia was mistaken for Maryland. The 1742 land bordered on and extended into Frederick County, Maryland.

However, since Dorcas Johnson married Jacob Dobkins whose father lived on Holman Creek in Dunmore County in 1775, and Rachel Johnson was supposed to have married a John Dobkins, and, Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, Peter Johnson HAD to have spent at least some time in that location in 1775 if these were his daughters. Those girls were certainly not traveling alone during the Revolutionary War.

By 1780, Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were in Allegheny County, by Pittsburg where they spent the rest of their lives.

Their daughters had moved on to East Tennessee with their Dobkins husbands, assuming that indeed, Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips.

Conclusions Anyone?

I’m always hesitant to draw conclusions.

However, I would suggest the following:

  • I would expect Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a Swedish settlement that also happened to include people from Finland and Denmark.
  • It would be unlikely for Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a heavily Scots-Irish and German area such as Cumberland County, PA and Frederick County, MD.
  • We have several triangulated matches between my cousin, Greg, who descends from one of Peter Johnson’s sons and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants through multiple children.
  • I match several people autosomally who descend from Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips through their other children.
  • Mary Polly Phillips doesn’t sound very Scandinavian. Was her name anglicized?

How Can We Firm This Up?

The best way to verify that Dorcas Johnson descends from Mary Polly Phillips is to test another person who descends through all females to the current generation through a different daughter. If they are sisters, both descending from Mary Polly Phillips, their descendants’ mitochondrial DNA will match very closely if not exactly.

The only other potential daughters are:

  • Rachel who is reported to have married a Dobkins male, possibly John, and maybe moved to Knox County, Indiana.
  • Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, but she isn’t reported as a daughter of Mary Polly Phillips.
  • Rebecca who may have married John Stephens and might have moved to West Virginia.

That’s a whole lot of maybe.

Finding Rebecca and a mitochondrial DNA descendant would be a huge step in the right direction. The only record I can find that might be Rebecca is in December of 1821 when John Stephens’ will is probated in Boone County, KY with wife, Rachel, daughters Salley, Catharine, Rebecca, Mary, and Rachel who is encouraged to never go back to live with John Smith. Wonderful, a Smith – every genealogists nightmare.

If you descend from this couple, PLEASE get in touch with me!

It doesn’t look like this avenue is very promising, so let’s think outside the box and get creative.

Peter Johnson’s Y DNA

Given that Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were married, they assuredly had to be able to talk, so either she spoke English, or he spoke her Native tongue.

One of the stories about Peter’s family is that he was either Swedish or Dutch, and that his family was from the New Sweden settlement in America.

If this is accurate, then Peter Johnson would have Scandinavian Y and mitochondrial DNA. Since men don’t pass their mitochondrial DNA on to their offspring, that route is not available to us, but what about his Y DNA?

Is there a Y DNA test through a Johnson male descendant of Peter Johnson, and if so, what information does it convey?

Can we use the Y DNA test of a descendant of Peter Johnson to help confirm that Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Mary Polly Philips? How would that work?

Stay tuned!


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The Circus Came to Town – 52 Ancestors #356

I’m not sure how to begin this article, or where. The beginning is a bit fuzzy, but the end is clear, crystal clear.

This chapter began when I was looking for my mother and father in the 1950 census, just a few short weeks ago. They weren’t married, at least not to each other at that time. I don’t even know if they had met. I wasn’t a gleam in anyone’s eye for several years in the future. And, truth be told, I came just a hair’s breadth from never existing.

I found my father living in Chicago in the census, but have been unable to locate Mom. At this point, I probably won’t, at least not before the census is indexed.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time reconstructing Mom’s timeline in the late 1940s and 1950, hoping for a hint of where to look.

Early 1950 was a transition in mother’s life. Literally, a door slammed in her face.

Before we visit the 1940s and 1950s, let’s fast forward a few years.

Peru, Indiana

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Silver Lake, Indiana, and mother and I lived in Kokomo, an hour or so away.

That drive was exciting, especially the crooked part between Wabash and US 31. The old road, today, Business 24, follows the Wabash River – the old Indian path, then the pioneer and settlers’ road right through the center of Peru.

The road threaded and shimmied along between the Wabash River and the railroad tracks. At one place, we could stop and use the old hand pump beside the river to get a drink of water.

I vividly remember an old weathered red round barn along that stretch of the road, now long gone.

Peru was known as the Circus City, which made perfect sense to me.

Why was Peru, in the middle of Indiana called the Circus City?

That answer seemed evident to me as a child too.

Just south of Peru, if we were lucky – very, very lucky – we could catch a glimpse of the circus animals in the yard by barns.

Circus animals, in a yard in Peru, Indiana? How did that happen?

Winter Quarters

The circus wintered over just south of Peru, or it least it did at one time. This property had a long circus history beginning in the 1870s, not long after the Civil War. The circus property eventually developed into a small village, then declined.

In 1929, Ringling Brothers bought the winter circus headquarters south of Peru on today’s US 31 which included 30 buildings, horse stables, training facilities, shops to repair and build festive circus wagons, tractors, a hospital, commissary, general store, bunkhouses, a restaurant and more. You can take a look, here, at the buildings being restored.

Today they are known as the Terrell Jacobs Circus Barns.

I remember the land at this intersection, even though the intersection itself looks different today.

These two barns are massive and were built to house the entire cadre of circus animals.

Sometimes, when you drove by, you could see the elephants outside, or maybe large cats or camels. It all seemed magical. From time to time, Mom would pull over and we could watch along the fence line for a while.

One of the barns, at right, is hidden behind trees from the road. It’s actually larger than the smaller barn you can see well, as shown in the aerial above.

In years past, there were more buildings.

The Circus waned during the Great Depression. In 1941 Ringling burned 126 of their decorated wagons, taking the remainder to Sarasota, Florida, and selling the Peru property by 1944.

In the mid/late 1940s into the early 1950s, the Peru property was used by other circuses and for training by Terrell Jacobs who had a wild animal act and performed independently with several circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

By the 1960s, this location outside Peru was used for the Kelly Circus Winter Quarters and a roadside attraction called Pipe Creek Wild Animal Farm which featured small amusement rides and animal acts.

As a young child, when Mom and I drove by these barns, by then pretty decrepit, sometimes she would tell me stories about the circus and the elephants.

It never occurred to me that my mother might have a connection to the circus.

I had never seen an elephant before, so a real, live elephant or two or three was something I would never forget.

Of course, I had an entire raft of questions for my mother.

Why are elephants in Peru, and how did they get there?

The circus used to winter there, she said.

But it’s summer, Mom.

Yes, but for a long time, before the circus moved to Florida, it used to winter in that location, beside the huge barns.

Bigger barns than I had ever seen. Gigantic barns!

Why did the circus move to Florida?

It was warmer in Florida for the performers and the animals.

What performers, Mom?

There were lots of performers that did all kinds of things.

What kinds of things?

Acrobats and clowns and animal trainers.

Then Mom explained that sometimes training those beautiful elephants was mean to them.

I cried, because one day the elephant had oh so very gently reached through the fence and touched my tiny hand with her velvety trunk. She seemed almost human to me. It seemed wrong that she had to live behind the fence. Some of those retired circus elephants could still be alive today.

I could tell that Mom was really uncomfortable talking about the circus and the animals. I stopped asking questions, but I continued to crane my neck to hopefully catch a glimpse of those elephants, wishing them well every time we drove by.

Inevitably, the circus would “come to town,” just like the circus had been coming to towns for decades across America. I desperately wanted to attend. All the other children were going with their parents, making plans. The excitement was palpable.

Mom relented, reluctantly. We purchased tickets and made our way through the crowd to our bleacher seats in the stands high inside the big top.

As I sat there, mesmerized, the lights and glittery costumes were fantastic, awe-inspiring. The performers in the spotlights seemed larger than life. Children aspired to be that amazing – but mother cautioned me that circus life was not all it was cracked up to be.

She mentioned sadness and loneliness.

But the performers all looked so happy – singing and smiling and flying through the air above the floor on trapezes and ropes. These people were so brave.

According to Mom, it was all an act.

Neither the animals nor the humans were happy, but they all performed for the people who thronged to see the circus. What else would they do, if they didn’t perform in the circus, she asked.

It never occurred to me to wonder how or why mother would know that. Truthfully, I wasn’t entirely sure I believed her. After all, they looked so doggone happy.

How could they be unhappy? And why would they stay if they were?

The Circus

Circus life was intended to look glamourous and to be entertaining. You can view the circus in this 1949 short “moving picture.”

The lives of both the performers and animals were chaotic.

Most circuses moved to a new location by train every day, AND performed twice a day. That’s 7 towns and 14 performances a week during the spring, summer, and fall. Circus life was exhausting.

The larger circuses sometimes stayed a day or two in each location because setting up the massive big top, often a block in length was no small feat. The elephants helped with that too.

Often the train traveled at night, waking up in a new location.

Circuses wintered someplace stationary to repair and train, originally in Peru, Indiana, then in Sarasota, Florida beginning in the 1920s and continuing until 1960. The Peru circus moved to Sarasota in the 1940s.

Today, the Sarasota winter circus site has been developed into a subdivision, but you can still see the outline of the original fairgrounds.

No trace remains today, except the historical marker at the red pin and street names like Circus Boulevard.

Circuses were intended to be exciting and entertaining – accompanied by midways and carnivals with sideshows. Food, games, and performances – pretty much anything to dazzle you and part you with your $$.

This Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “Congress of Freaks” (their description, not mine) gives you some idea of what people would pay to see. While staring at people who are different bothers me intensely today, these people in that time and place may have had no other alternatives to earn wages and support themselves. Some of their stories speak to incredible fortitude and success.

After all, the circus was about shock value and entertainment. They wanted you to go home and tell your neighbor about the tallest and smallest or conjoined twins, perhaps, so they would want to come and see too.

Families and relationships between performers were formed around circus life.

For those who have never seen the movie, The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, it’s definitely worth a watch, particularly his musical performance, here and Keala Settle’ here. Keala, who plays the bearded woman says it all and her performance in the actual movie is amazing.

I can’t help but think of Mother when I hear Keala sing.

The circus matinees were sometimes free in order to attract people. Who, in town, wanted to be left out of the excitement? There were all kinds of things to buy.

In 1930, the circus train of the Greatest Show on Earth was a whopping 90 cars long which included bright and colorful circus wagons, animal cars, baggage wagons, dining and sleeper cars, and any number of unique sights. Some trains became too long and were divided into groups of 25 cars each, with the advance cars holding the items needed first for setup.

The performers lived in the cars, permanently, in cramped settings allowing few personal items, several roommates to a car.

Everything needed to function was encapsulated on the circus train. Food, laundry, and on the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey train in the 1940s, even a dry-cleaning facility was available for the performer’s costumes as they traveled.

At the next location, unloading the train and then walking to the circus grounds, which were ideally near or beside the train tracks, was a sight to behold. Sometimes the elephants were paraded through town, largest to smallest, holding each other by the tail, to attract attention, generate excitement, and announce that indeed, the circus had arrived. Never any other time in your life would you see an elephant in your town, maybe even in front of your house.

Often, the entire town turned out to watch the process, beginning to end.

The circus tent was nearly a block long and people marveled at the entire circus construction process – and that was before the actual performance itself.

Life for circus performances was different than that of anyone else. Establishing permanent relationships with anyone not with the circus was nearly impossible. How was one to raise children in the circus environment? What if a performer became pregnant? Or even sick, for that matter?

The circus was also a haven for runaways. Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “run away and join the circus.”? No one would ever find you. No one would likely look.

Some people might just have had something to hide, or maybe were hiding from someone.

Perception of the Circus

Women performers were intentionally scantily clad and wore leotards and body-shaped clothes. While some people were enthralled, enchanted, and entertained, others were horrified and equated the circus with sin, depravity, and damnation.

Not everyone was happy when the circus came to town. In northern Indiana, and assuredly other places too, some groups of people including members of very conservative religions were staunchly opposed to the circus and what it represented.

To begin with, and just for starters, the women were immodest. Tempting men. Showing their ankles and even their knees and legs. FOR SHAME!!!!

The Brethren, Amish, and Mennonites, known collectively as Anabaptists, attempt to distance themselves from perceived immorality and anything that would distract them and their families from a simple, unadorned Godly life. Their clothes were dark or black and to this day, many Amish don’t drive cars or have electricity in their homes. Women wear prayer caps, don’t cut their hair and pin it up under their prayer cap. Men don’t shave.

The circus was anything but conservative. In fact, it was intentionally the polar opposite. Flashy and flamboyant.

The circus was perceived as somewhat seedy, at best, attracting winos and people of ill repute. That perception was not entirely wrong. But it wasn’t entirely right either. Not everyone deserved to be tarred with the same brush.

The Ferverda and Miller Families

My grandfather, John Ferverda, mother’s father, was raised in a Brethren home, smack dab in the center of a very conservative Pietist community that stretched across several counties in northern Indiana. His parents were long-time members of the Salem Brethren Church.

His mother was Eva Miller, a descendant of several generations of Brethren families who had been opposed to specific activities within their communities since before they immigrated to the US in the early 1700s. They allowed their land to be confiscated instead of providing service in the Revolutionary War. They moved to a new frontier in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and then another in Indiana. They didn’t take sides in the War of 1812 or the Civil War either. By the time WWI came along, three of Eva’s sons served and the boys were indeed drummed out of the church.

John married a Lutheran woman and he too was the equivalent of excommunicated, called shunning in those religions. Treated as unclean and dirtied by the world, they weren’t even allowed to eat with other Brethren family members, at least not Brethren in good standing.

A few years ago, a cousin told me that her grandmother, the daughter of one of the Miller men, had gone to either the circus or the carnival with a boy. She came home to find her clothes on the porch. She was not welcome back. Not then. Not later that night. Not ever.

Mother (GASP) Danced

The Anabaptist religions don’t include musical instruments in church, or at least they didn’t then. They do sing hymns, but without musical accompaniment.

Dancing was strictly forbidden and condemned as immoral.

As I recall from my youth, if something seemed like fun, by all means, don’t do it.

When dancing, bodies were moved in a sensual way or could be interpreted as such.

Dancers wore makeup. Dance outfits were tight and colorful and showed “things.” Heaven forbid – no, just no.

My grandparents moved about 20 miles down the road from where my grandfather was raised. They lived across the road from my grandfather’s equally as backslidden brother, Roscoe, who also married a woman outside the church. In fact, he divorced and married twice.

Women were expected to be subservient to their husbands, NO MATTER WHAT, and divorce was viewed as adultery.

If Roscoe hadn’t already been shunned, that would clearly have done it. Not only those two things, but he and two of his brothers chose to serve their country in the military.

Mother began dancing at about the same time as mother’s Miller cousin was thrown out of her home and excised from her family for going to the circus or carnival. It doesn’t matter whether it was the circus or carnival, because the circus included a carnival or midway, and they were viewed as equally bad. Very, very family-splitting-worthy bad.

I won’t even comment about what they expected would happen to a young teenage female who had to find a place to live and sleep for the night. Throwing her out seems counter-productive – but I digress.

About the same time, mother became very ill and was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. At ten years of age, her heart was damaged. The doctors told her parents that they recommended ballet dance to strengthen her heart. It was literally a matter of life and death, but there was a problem, aside from the community’s anti-dancing bias.

In the tiny town of Silver Lake, there were no dance instructors. Not only that, there wasn’t even anyone living there who danced and could give mother lessons.

My grandparents decided to drive mother to Fort Wayne, 40 miles each way in their Model-T Ford, twice a week, for dance lessons. The neighbors be damned. Mother’s health was more important.

My grandmother began playing the piano for mother who practiced ballet in the music room. Then, mother began performing in dance recitals with her dance class in Fort Wayne.

Tongues wagged. That area wasn’t entirely conservative, but primarily so. Dancing was against the rules and perceived as immoral by many, many religions – not just the Anabaptists.

Yes, mother wore costumes and YOU COULD SEE HER ARMS AND LEGS!!!

She was only a child but made to feel that dancing was dirty and immoral – and therefore so was she.

Even one of the local ministers thought girls who danced were inviting the affections of “any male.” And yes, he was “any male.”

Nothing hypocritical about condemning her from one side of his mouth while trying to take advantage of the situation. Nope, nothing to see there. Move along folks. After all, it was HER fault, right, because SHE invited men by dancing. Of course, a 10-year-old inviting grown men. (I hope you can hear my dripping sarcasm.)

Yes, indeed, dancing was immoral and so were dancers, even young girls who danced to strengthen their hearts after being deathly ill for a year.

It’s difficult to not be affected by all of that targeted negativity.

Mother continued to dance, then taught dancing.

She married her high school sweetheart just before he shipped off for overseas during WWII.

Mom became pregnant during their abbreviated honeymoon and lived with her parents, waiting for her new husband to return from the war so they could set up housekeeping and begin their married life.

He came home from the war alright, just not to her. Suffice it to say that Mom was heartbroken. Clearly, there was no future for them, and divorce resulted at a time when divorce was quite uncommon.

If tongues were wagging before, they were out of control and slapping tonsils by that time. Of COURSE the marriage failed. Mom DANCED! Never mind that she had been living at home with her parents and baby and doing nothing else for that entire time and HE was the one who stepped out. Or more accurately stated, he came home to someone else.

Once divorced, Mom had to somehow figure out how to support herself and her son.

Her dream, the American dream of getting married, settling down, and having a baby was dead. That dream could only exist with a husband.

Now Mom was not only a dancer, she was a divorced dancer. Might as well have that scarlet letter D tattooed dead center on her forehead. The depths of her perceived immorality now seemed bottomless.

There was absolutely no future for her in Silver Lake or in any conservative location. But she had to somehow support and care for her child.

The arrangement arrived upon by all parties concerned, including both grandmothers, was that my grandparents would retain physical custody of my half-brother, my mother would work and Dan, her former husband, would pay $4 a week child support to my grandparents.

A very unusual arrangement for 1943 or 1944.

My mother only had one skill set. You guessed it. Dancing. She had no choice. There were no jobs in Silver Lake, she had no other skills and no “decent man” back then and there would EVER consider marrying a sullied divorcee who DANCED!

Within a few months, Mom borrowed clothes, traveled to Chicago and auditioned for the Dorothy Hild Dancers who performed exclusively at the upscale lakeside Edgewater Beach Hotel, opening for famous acts like Bing Crosby.

Being welcomed into the dance troupe meant that Mom “turned pro,” beginning her professional dancing career.

Mom’s dream was to become a bookkeeper, but she had a child to support.


In Chicago, Mom met Frank Sadowski, a medical student and the brother of one of the other Dorothy Hild Dancers. Mom and Frank fell in love and became engaged before he shipped out overseas. Once again, she could look forward to the future out from under the grey cloud of criticism that loomed, ever-waiting, back home in Indiana.

On April 19, 1945, Frank was killed in action attempting to save another man.

Not only was mother’s world destroyed, she was devasted. Hope for the future was gone. Back in Indiana, those wagging tongues blamed an immoral lifestyle – suggesting that mother deserved whatever happened to her – no matter how bad that something might be.

By this time, mother had lost any hope for a “normal” married life; lost her first husband to an unwelcome divorce, lost her son due to the circumstances, and lost the love of her life to death.

Frank was handsome, kind, and brave. Everything she could ever want. He loved her for who she was, loved her son, and he was gone.

Mom really struggled with Frank’s death – not just then – but throughout her remaining life. I wrote Frank’s story as I uncovered the details, to honor both of them, here.

Frank’s body wasn’t returned home, at least not right away. Mom said there was no closure with no body and no funeral.

On May 8th, just three weeks after Frank’s death, Mom appeared in a jubilant public Chicago celebration when a truce was reached in Europe. Frank had died needlessly. Mom was glad for others, but tears slid down her face as she sang in the performance.

Mom became incredibly thin during this time, almost emaciated.

Mom was still dancing with Dorothy Hild in May and June, but by September of 1945, she had struck out on her own as a solo act character dancer – an entertainer in high-end show clubs where she was compared to Miss America.

Mother kept scrapbooks that detailed her performances when something was printed in newspapers. She cut and pasted ads detailing her appearances across the eastern half of the US. Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and along the Mississippi River near St. Louis, specifically in Cairo, Illinois.

But then….

Radio Silence

Mom stopped clipping items for her scrapbook, or maybe a scrapbook is missing. Regardless, we know nothing after late 1945, although there are many undated clippings from across the country.

At MyHeritage, I found a newspaper article in the Warsaw Daily Times in Indiana dated October 8, 1947, that reported that my grandparents traveled to Cairo, Illinois to bring Mom home because she had broken two bones in her foot. Mom was to remain home with her parents until the broken bones healed.

Mom later told me that a dancer’s feet never really heal when bones are broken.

I can just hear the neighbors, can’t you? ‘You know, if she hadn’t been dancing…”

I don’t know how long Mom remained in Silver Lake, but I’m sure she was miserable there. My brother would have been 4. If there was nothing in Silver Lake for mother 3 or 4 years earlier, there was even less for her there in 1947.

She still had no skills other than dancing.

By sometime in 1948, mother was performing again.

We find Mom starring as “Miss Zenith Radio,” performing in Omaha, Nebraska.

For the first time, I noticed that the emcee is a person who appears to suffer from dwarfism. This may or may not be relevant, but keep it in mind.


To say that Frank’s death rocked Mom’s world would be an understatement.

Mom said that after the war ended, dancing engagements were more difficult to procure, and things had changed. There was less interest in big bands and the clubs were becoming more interested in less clothing, a style of dancing Mom personally did not embrace

Some people already considered professional dancing of any type as burlesque, which originally meant a type of variety show but eventually became synonymous with striptease. Recently a historian documenting the life of dancers in Chicago referred to ballroom and upscale hotel dance troupes like the Dorothy Hild Dancers as family burlesque.

Unless you were morally opposed to dancing, these dancers did nothing that would be objectional for any family member to see.

By Christianmsufan88 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In fact, families frequented the posh Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room where the show would commence after dinner.

Mother continued to dance, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. Frank’s body had still not been returned from Okinawa. I think there was a tiny piece of her that hoped against hope that Frank was somehow still alive. That there had been a case of mistaken identity and one day she would discover Frank was actually in the hospital someplace, not in a temporary or unmarked grave.

Military records show that Frank’s father ordered his headstone in February 1949, and Frank was finally laid to rest on March 23, 1949, in Chicago.

Frank’s own father, a physician, apparently had doubts as well and performed an autopsy of sorts to assure that the body in the coffin was really Frank. It was. I can’t fathom what that father went through, opening his son’s casket and body bag.

Somehow that seems to have been a fork-in-the-road turning point in Mom’s life.

The next chronological record I found in her “Suitcase of Life” with the scrapbooks that she left me was her performer’s union card.

On June 1, 1949, Mom withdrew her membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists in Chicago which was a labor union that supported performing artists, including entertainers and circus performers.

Whatever Mom had been doing, wherever, she seemed to retire at this point, but why?

What was she doing?

And where?

Did the return of Frank’s body and his burial have anything to do with that?

What I didn’t know, at least not at that point, is that something was missing.

Mother Meets William Foy Large

There were gaps in mother’s life after Frank’s death, specifically part of 1947, most of 1948, and the first few months of 1949.

At some point during this time, she met William Foy Large, known as Foy.

Sit down.

Brace yourself for this…

Foy was a one-legged acrobat who performed with the circus.

Additionally, he ran a dry-cleaning operation on the circus train.

And appeared in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” Sideshows.

She didn’t just meet him, she married him.

Far away, in Florida.

On April 26, 1949, mother and Foy applied for a marriage license in Tampa, Florida. According to their application, he was 22 years older than her. Mom was only 26, even though she had lived through a lifetime of Hellish grief already. He was 48.

If you’re picking your jaw up off the floor, well, so did I.

I knew that she had been married briefly and that his surname was Large, but there was a whole lot I didn’t know. Probably a whole lot I still don’t know and never will.

Here’s what I do know, positively. My mother was suffering and had been, at least since Frank’s death. Earlier, she had become socially ostracized in the small town where she grew up – beginning when she was 10 years old. There was no place left to turn.

Women who are “marked” within their community never have the opportunity to recover.

Their only option is to leave and “live it down” elsewhere, even if the “it” in this case was simply dancing to strengthen her heart as a 10-year-old child. Everyplace and everything Mom tried unraveled, adding another layer of sorrow and another negative stripe to her supposed “desirability” to a male in good social standing. Certainly, that applied to males where she grew up who by that time had married their high school sweethearts and were already farming and raising families.

Maybe Mom had all she could take. Reached her breaking point.

Maybe Mom ran away to join the circus too, ran away to marry one of the performers.

Maybe she just wanted to escape and start over someplace else.

Maybe she found common ground with Foy, and he understood – having lived much of that himself.

Four days later, the marriage license was issued, and they were married by a judge on April 30, 1949.

Mom had the one and only photo of them together tucked into this certificate of marriage, so I would presume that was their wedding day, outside, after the nuptials. She is holding her hand with a ring on “the ring finger” so that’s it’s visible on her purse.

April 30th

If that date looks familiar to you, it’s because it was exactly today’s date, 73 years ago.

Additionally, Mom passed away, exactly 16 years ago today.

The anniversary of mother’s death has always been quite difficult for me. It’s not just a day, but the two weeks leading up to her death – so more of a season. She suffered during those two weeks, which meant I suffered – both of us needlessly.

Now I’ve discovered there was more to this date than I knew.

What Happened?

How the heck did Mom meet up with Foy and get to Florida?

According to their marriage license application, she was living in Silver Lake and he gave his address as Windsor, California. Both listed their occupations as entertainers.

The circus wintered in Sarasota, Florida, just south of Tampa where Mom married Foy just 35 days after Frank was buried.

A month later, on June 1st, Mom withdrew her membership from the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Did she return to Chicago to do that? Did she mail something? Did she actually submit her resignation before she left? Was this her commitment to a new life with Foy? Goodbye to the past?

My first thought was that perhaps she was performing with the circus, but that same union represented circus performers.

The rest of the story, the part Mom did eventually tell me plus what I’ve found out since make that scenario unlikely.

What Do We Know About William Foy Large?

William Foy Large’s life was no bowl of cherries either.

He was born in Lancaster, Texas on August 28, 1894. How is it even possible that my mother was married to a man born in the 19th century and old enough to be her father?

In 1900, the Large family was still living near Dallas, Texas, but by the 1910 census, they had moved to a farm in Ohio.

In 1917, Foy registered for the draft giving his address as Aberdeen Avenue, Linden Heights, Ohio, part of the Dayton metropolitan area. He was a “telegrath operator” (sic) for the B&O Railroad in Blacklick, Ohio, just east of Columbus. He was single, Caucasian and claimed a military exemption because of the loss of “mi leg” (sic). He was tall and slender, with dark blue eyes and light-colored hair.

In 1920 on the census, Foy is 25 years old and is living with his parents in a different location in Ohio, but still listed as a telegraph operator at the railroad office.

As luck would have it, his application for employment dated July 8, 1920, with the Pacific Railway still exists. He claims he doesn’t use alcohol, but the answer to question 13 just chilled me to the bone.

“Have you ever suffered any physical injury?

William: Yes

“If so, state when, where and nature of injury.”

William: July 15, 1902. Portsmouth Ohio – left leg amputated

I’m sure that’s a date he never forgot until the day he died.

However, when asked if any ailment or defect might render him unfit for railroad service, he answered “no.”

That says a lot about his perspective.

On December 7, 1923, Foy married Martha Vannerson in Maricopa, Arizona. The newspaper article announcing their marriage said he was from Columbus, Ohio and she was from Chicago.

What were they doing in Maricopa, Arizona?

This next item provides a clue.

On November 9, 1925, a photo of Foy and another performer are shown as acrobats with the Bob Morton Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida.

An article a couple of days later explains the men’s unusual stories more fully.

And yes, for the record, I’m horrified about the Klan. I had no idea they hired circuses and other acts for entertainment and probably to raise money for their dastardly deeds.

Thanks to this article, we now know how Foy joined the circus, although mother’s version is slightly less glamourous. Mom said he joined as a ticket seller, but let’s face it, that doesn’t make NEARLY as good of a story as the one-legged acrobat who secretly excelled, conquering his disability and then burst upon the circus scene so grandly that the show was stopped because he was just that dazzling.

Personally, I’d like to believe the newspaper version.

A few days later, on November 18th, the St. Petersburg paper reports that Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Large of Columbus, Ohio are guests at the Floronton Hotel during their sojourn in the city. Clearly, Martha was along.

Apparently, the dynamic acrobatic duo didn’t last long, because by 1930, Foy was living in New York City.

In the 1930 census, he’s living at 109 West 46th Street in Manhattan, a lodger, along with a whole raft of other lodgers. Additionally, he’s married, shown with Martha, age 19, also married and one Albert Large, age 70, widowed. All three are shown as actors in the theater as are many of the other lodgers, although some have no occupation listed at all.

Albert appears to be Foy’s 70-year-old widowed father. This is confusing because his father is also enumerated in California and was never an actor.

The head of household is a printer, so I wonder if all of these lodgers are renting rooms above a print shop.

That address looks to be right about here today, in the heart of the Theater District, just a block off Times Square and two blocks from Rockefeller Center. It looks like Foy gave acting a hero’s try.

Martha, a beautiful lady, would become a performer in the Barnes-Floto Circus and other circuses, later.

On April 2, 1932, the Spokane, Washington, newspaper stated that at the Fox Theater, two one-legged men, Foy Large and Frank Morgner were exceptionally clever in an athletic feature.

In December of 1932, William and Martha are listed on an incoming British passenger list, New York to Southampton. They were headed for the Joster Agency, Leicester Square, in London, noted as performers. Others on the same ship were headed to the Palladium Theater in London, the most famous variety theater in the world. Leicester Square is the entertainment hub of London, including the Royal Opera House.

A few months later, on April 28, 1933, William Foy Large, without Martha, is listed aboard the SS Gerolstein which sailed from Le Havre, France to New York. He listed his birth date and location, but his address in the US is shown as Windsor, California, Route 1, Box 158.

Apparently, he was done with New York City.

Foy is listed on the voter registration list between 1938-1940 at the same Windsor, Sonoma County, California address as his father who is listed as a farmer. Foy is noted as a rancher. Apparently, his father’s home is Foy’s “home base.” I’m guessing Foy wasn’t actually home often.

It’s through Foy’s divorce from Martha, published in the Logansport, Indiana newspaper on January 3, 1936, that we find Foy’s connection to Peru, Indiana.

Where was Foy on March 1, 1935? I have no idea. Apparently, neither did Martha.

Given the divorce, it’s safe to say that Foy spent some nontrivial amount of time in Peru, the home of the Hagonbeck-Wallace Circus that wintered there. That circus split from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in 1935.

The history of circuses in the US is similar to the mergers of banks- a knotted tangle. Purchases and mergers and many of the same families behind various organizations.

Their divorce was granted on March 16, 1936.

Foy was free to go his own way, although it appears that he already had. Although in that time and place, there was no such thing as “no-fault” divorce, so maybe the couple just decided Foy would be “at fault” so they could get divorced.

This time, Foy’s adventures took him all the way to another continent – Australia!

The story of Frank’s leg was told in a Melbourne, Australia newspaper in December of 1938.

I thought I recalled Mom saying he lost his leg in a train accident – caught between boxcars as a child and then run over. I still cringe just thinking about that.

The next day, this photo appeared in the Perth Sunday Times stating that they were with the Ripley “Believe it or Not” Strip. I’m guessing Foy is the man at left.

Another article says they had the courage to offset the tragic disability of the loss of a leg each by capitalizing their misfortune into a really first-class athletic show – one that would make for more fortunate brethren look to their laurels.

It appears that in addition to being performers, they were also in the sideshows as “freaks.”

On March 5, 1939, according to the ship’s manifest, Foy returned from Sydney, Australia, landing in San Francisco, his home listed once again at the Windsor, California address. He spent (at least) three months in Australia.

I don’t find Foy was in the 1940 census. He wasn’t living with his 80-year-old father on Laughlin Road between Mark West Station Road and Slusser Road in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California. I doubt that many circus performers were accounted for in the census.

I don’t know what crops they raised back then, but today, Laughlin Road is wine country.

Never one to let moss grow under his feet, or foot, when he registered for the draft in 1942 (probably April 27th), he registered in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, but he gave his address as Windsor, Sonoma County, California at the same address he had been using for years.

Then 48 years old, Foy gave W.A. Large, his father, at the same address as the person who will always know where he lives. Six feet tall and 145 pounds, Foy had blue eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion. This left leg was “off above the knee.”

In 1944, he and Martha were living in an apartment in Newport News, Virginia according to the city directory.

Wait? What? Is that even possible? They were divorced in 1936 – 8 years earlier.

Maybe there’s another William F. Large with a wife named Martha V.? I suppose it’s possible, but it’s very unlikely.

After that sighting in1944, we don’t find Foy again for several years. However, by inference, I can tell you where he was at least part of that time.

Peru and Florida Again

Somehow, Foy and Mother met. How I wish I had asked more questions while I could. I didn’t, because I could tell Mom was uncomfortable with this topic. She was embarrassed about this entire episode, probably, in part because he had abandoned her. Yep, he dumped Mom, and that story sounds very familiar. Maybe Martha and Mom should have compared notes before she married Foy.

Hindsight is always 20-20.

Was their courtship one of immediate infatuation? Love at first sight? Was Foy an excellent actor, knowing how to mold himself to be, at least for a short amount of time, what women wanted? Mom did mention that he was very handsome and we already know he was athletic.

The circus wintered in Tampa, Florida, where Mom married William Foy Large just a month and a few days after Frank’s burial.

They were married by a judge, here in the Tampa Courthouse. Marched up those steps twice – once to apply and once to pick up the license and find the judge.

Did Mom call her parents afterward to tell them? She must have felt quite alone. No wedding gown or celebration with family.

Did Mom meet Foy in or near Peru, near her parent’s home? Had she gone back home to deal with Frank’s death and such?

Did they travel to Florida together to marry, which would suggest strongly that my grandparents did not approve?

Or, did she meet Foy and correspond with him over time – later joining him for matrimony?

Why did she marry Foy? Foy was 28 years older than she was, born in 1894. Did she know that before she married him? She wouldn’t have been the first bride to discover those types of discrepancies by looking at dates on her soon-to-be husband’s marriage application while waiting for the judge.

How did Mom get to Florida anyway? I’m suspecting she traveled by train. She would not have owned a car and there were lots of train tracks into Sarasota thanks to the circus.

The interstates didn’t exist then, either. Just two-lane highways.

“Old Florida,” Homosassa, an hour north of Tampa looked like this in 1950. Did Mom see the countryside dressed in gently blowing Spanish Moss passing by as she swayed back and forth in the train car lumbering across the country? Was she hopeful, or did she have a premonition that something wasn’t quite right?

What was mother signing up for?

What was circus life like?

Circus Life in Florida in 1949/1950

I was able to find several photos of the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Library of Congress and Florida’s archives.

The Ringling family was quite wealthy, with a mansion and upscale hotel in Sarasota, Florida. However, the performers were anything but and the circus’s winter quarters were at the Sarasota County fairgrounds.

The circus winter quarters was not a vacation. It could better be viewed as an extended practice session.

Circus wagons got a fresh coat of paint. New acts were developed. Maintenance was performed and new costumes created.

The Big Top was erected in a field. Local residents came to see the free shows on Sundays.

Abandoned Ringling Brothers Circus bleachers and buildings in Sarasota after they left in 1960.

Mother probably sat in these very bleachers just a decade earlier.

The circus train cars were repaired and maintained as well. The circus train was more than a mile long and functioned not only as transportation and a home on wheels but as a traveling advertisement too.

This aerial photo of the Sarasota Ringling Brothers winter quarters was taken in 1951.

Notice the many railyards at bottom. The winter quarters included housing for the performers, staff, and animals. A few people rented short-term accommodations outside of the complex, near or in Gibsonton that became known as a sideshow wintering “carney” town that catered to circus members. Gibsonton even had a post office with a dwarf-height counter and became known as the place where everyone who lived there had run away with the circus. Many circus and carnival members retired in Gibsonton among people “like themselves.”

Another 1951 aerial view of the circus winter quarters.

The Big Top is erected, at right. The dormitory is the large white building that housed up to 1600 members of the cast and crew.

A rare color photo from 1949 shows the audience watching performances.

Free shows every Sunday were available for the locals.

The elephants performing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Is Mom one of the people sitting in the bleachers? If not that day, then certainly another.

The dorm building is shown in the background.

The circus winter quarters were self-sufficient – just like the circus trains were.

In the late 1940s, Loomis Dean, a photographer rode along with the circus for a year and took some amazing documentary photos. You can read more, here.

In an interview in the 1990s, Loomis summed circus life up pretty well:

The privacy was minimal, and the ambiance created by this conglomeration of athletes and beauties and adventurers and freaks and con merchants often resembled a pressure cooker on a slow flame. There were some bizarre happenings, to be sure, most of which occurred in the wee hours in the vast darkness of the railroad yards. Invariably, the yards were surrounded by an assortment of seedy bars and hotels. These were grim and grimy places under the best of circumstances, although they took on a kind of spooky Dante’s Inferno glitter when the circus mob descended into town, pouring into its streets and saloons.

The last Sarasota winter show of the 1947 season. The circus normally left its winter quarters sometime in March.

In 1948, crowds gather to watch the circus train leave winter quarters in Sarasota.

The arrival and departure of the circus was an event itself. Locals all came out to watch- waving goodbye or welcoming the circus home again.

The circus wasn’t just a career or a job – it was a way of life. Sometimes for generations.

If you were going to marry a circus performer, or worker, you were going to work in the circus too. Nobody rode for free. Work was the price of admission.

Everyone worked. Married circus couples who had children often taught their children age-appropriate acts, such as trampoline as early as age 5. Kids sold tickets and other non-dangerous work.

A marriage where both partners didn’t travel with the circus wasn’t likely to survive. As difficult as circus life was, people did marry and lived their entire adult life traveling with various circuses.

According to the embedded photographer:

Love always seemed on the mind of circus folk, although given the cramped quarters, liaisons often took place in lumberyards, warehouses, or even, in extremis, ditches. For all the licentiousness of these scenes, however, I was surprised to discover that the circus had a rigid sexual caste system that made certain relationships taboo.

At the lowest level were the casual laborers, most of whom were winos who joined the show for a few days or weeks and then disappeared into the void. One level up were the workingmen—the roustabouts and the canvasbacks. Then there were the wranglers and grooms who took care of the 1,000 animals on the train. Above them were the sideshow freaks, above them were the propmen and riggers, and above them were the ushers and band members.

The young showgirls were next up the ladder, and one rung higher still were the monied aristocracy, aka the ticket sellers. The Brahmins were the featured acts, the executives, and of course, the stars.

Based on this, Foy, both a performer and a “freak” was far from the bottom social rung. Based on his marriages, he clearly mixed it up with the young showgirls. If he actually was a ticket seller at some point, he was higher still, which might explain his attraction to the decades-younger female performers.

The circus train, steaming into the circus grounds, returned to winter quarters sometime in October or November, although the timeframe varied. Sometimes, if problems occurred such as the horrific 1944 Hartford fire, a circus would retire to winter quarters early.

Everyone must have looked forward to this break and opportunity to recharge and regroup. This was the only chance to stay in one place for more than a night or two, at most.

Often, practice was held outside.

The acrobats are flying above and dogs are being trained below. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus included a thousand animals.

Circus performers exiting the train in Sarasota in 1951 during the filming of the award-winning, highly-acclaimed movie, The Greatest Show on Earth which was filmed on-site – in Sarasota and along 60,000 miles of train tracks. If I didn’t know better, and the year is off by one year, 1950 vs 1951, I would swear that the dark-haired woman at right on the steps is Mother. You can watch a clip, here.

Did Mother Understand What Circus Life Meant?

Is Circus life what mother signed up for? Did she understand what that meant?

She was a beautiful woman and a talented performer, but circus life was different than dancing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers. For beginners, there was an entire culture attached to the circus that was very different from the comparatively sheltered professional dance troupes.

Did mother and Foy marry in Florida just before the circus left their winter quarters for performances across the country? Did she accompany him? Did she perform with the circus or work one of the jobs?

Based once again on scanty information, I believe that shortly after their wedding, such as it was, Foy left with the circus train, and mother stayed in Florida.

Obituaries are notoriously wrong in terms of locations of descendants, but Foy’s mother’s obituary, published on July 8, 1949, in California says Foy is a resident of New York City.

I’m guessing here, but I’d wager that Foy spent the 1949 summer on the road, or more specifically, on the train, criss-crossing the country without mother.

Whatever brought Mother and Foy together didn’t last.

If she didn’t accompany Foy on the train, what did she do while he was gone? Did she stay in Florida and get a job there? Did she return to Indiana, intending to go back to Florida when the circus returned to winter quarters?

Was there a plan? She had already resigned from the union, so she was unlikely to be performing someplace.

Whatever she thought was going to happen, I’m sure this wasn’t in mother’s plan.

Mom and Foy were married in Tampa. The circus wintered in Sarasota, but he filed for divorce in Charlotte County, Florida only 9 months after they were married.

Was that where mother was living in January of 1950?

Mother said that she was divorced from William Foy Large in Bradenton Florida. That’s not the same location, but it is right beside Sarasota. Perhaps that’s where she was living, at least part of the time. The divorce was final on March 21, 1950.

It appears that the winter quarter hiatus was just long enough to get either married or divorced.

I need to order those divorce records. For one thing, they may help me know where to look for mother in the 1950 census, taken just a month later. No wonder I can’t find her.

Mom may have been living someplace in Florida. I know one place she isn’t living – with her parents in Indiana.

Mom didn’t talk much about this marriage, but when, as an adult, I found a photo of Mom and Foy along with the Certificate of Marriage, she did explain, at least somewhat.

Mom said they were never really able to live together after they were married, as they were both traveling. She said she received divorce papers shortly after they were married as he “was never one to be alone.”  She indicated that she wasn’t surprised, but I could tell that it still pained her. She would only have been 26 in 1949 when they married and just turned 27 when she received divorce papers. Rejected again!

My heart aches for my young mother. In the 9 years since she graduated from high school, she had married her high school sweetheart, only to have her husband come home to someone new without even telling her he was home.

Then, divorced, she went to Chicago to dance to support her son.

She met Frank who was killed.

She may have gone back home to regroup.

She met Foy and everything must have seemed rosy.

She journeyed to Florida to begin a new chapter of her life, only to find herself alone. I’m presuming here that her parents did not approve.

Was she even able to go home for Christmas in 1949 to see her parents and son?

Then, just after New Year’s, she was served with divorce papers, again.

She had already withdrawn from the performers’ union.

What was she to do?

What would she do?

Where would she go?

What Happened to Foy?

He got married again, and quickly.

On November 21, 1950, the Sarasota newspaper reports that William Foy Large, age 50 had taken a marriage license with Angela Antalek Reynolds, age 31, also of Sarasota.

According to her 1947 petition for naturalization in Sarasota, Florida, she was a circus performer who was born in Hungary, immigrated in 1937, and married a US citizen in 1943.

Maybe now Mom’s comment about Foy never being alone makes more sense – especially taken in combination with the commentary about life on the circus trains from the embedded photojournalist.

Maybe that’s what Foy was doing on the circus train while they were married.

Apparently, Foy remained in Florida, at least for a few years.

In 1953, he flipped his car.

March 2, 1955 – Ringling Brothers may attempt again to air-condition the Big Top. Also Foy Large is back from a European Thrift Tour.

In 1955, he is living in the waterfront Franklin Manor apartments in Sarasota on the Tamiami Trail where he files the intention to register the business name of Swift Deluxe Cleaners and Laundry Services. This suggests he may no longer be traveling with the circus.

In 1958, Foy is living in the La Tosca Trailer Park (owned by the Canestrelli Circus family on Fruitville Road) in Sarasota, Florida, and petitions the city council for an agreement to have a concession stand on the Ringling Causeway opened to competitive bidding. He says he would offer better service than is presently being offered. That petition was eventually denied.

By 1958, Foy was 64 years old. His days as an acrobat were probably long behind him, which is why he was likely petitioning to open a concession and a cleaners.

He was planning for his Act 2, except for Foy, it was act several-hundred and something.

At some point, he divorced again given that his third wife married someone else.

I lost track of Foy other than discovering that he died in San Francisco, California on April 8, 1979. To the best of my knowledge, Mother had no contact with him after their divorce. She wasn’t angry with him. He was simply inconsequential and didn’t exist. I know she was embarrassed about that whole episode.

She might have run away to marry the acrobat and join the circus, or not, but she came back.

What About Mother?

I’m still hoping to locate Mom in the 1950 census, although this search for her has probably provided more information and insight than the census itself ever could. I wish I could just ask her. I wish I had asked her.

Mom eventually went back to Indiana, but I don’t know when, or where.

In 1951 and 1952, mother was living in Fort Wayne. In 1951, according to the city directory, she was working as a salesperson at Lerner’s Department store and by 1952, she was assistant manager.

In 1951, she lived at 534 Meyer in this cute little yellow house.

In 1952, she lived at 514 Madison, a building that no longer exists.

At some point, Mother returned to Chicago and lived with a widow woman named Mommie McKenzie who rented to female boarders.

They would go to the pet cemetery so Mommie McKenzie and her current fur-family members could visit the graves of those already passed over.

Mother met my father on a train, but I’m unclear whether she met him when she moved back to Chicago, or if she met him earlier and perhaps he had something to do with her moving back.

When Mom was pregnant for me, she worked in a department store in downtown Chicago in the dress department. Mom used to tell me about dressing the mannequins in the window. Those were days when department stores were full-service, and sales clerks assisted customers in the dressing room, bringing them items to try on.

The Final Ironic Twist

My brother John told me that at some point, Mom worked in Lafayette, Indiana as a bookkeeper, which, ironically, is what she originally wanted to do instead of dance.

Perhaps those heartbreaking relationships which I refuse to call “failed marriages,” because neither had even a remote chance of succeeding, were just stepping-stones on her journey to where she needed to be.

They were assuredly stepping-stones to me through my father.

My parents moving to Kokomo after I was born would be the gateway to eventually meeting my wonderful step-father after my father died and would launch me on my journey to where I sit today.

I can’t help but think about the possible path my life could have taken. Had her marriage to Foy worked out, I wouldn’t have been me. “Me,” as I know it, would never have existed.

I Hope You Dance

The beginning of this chapter in mother’s life was a bit murky, but the end was not. That door closed with a resounding slam.

Mother must have cried her way back to Indiana to lick her wounds and suffer the indignity of even more condemnation in Silver Lake. Truthfully, I hope those gossips never knew what happened, because you know they would have somehow blamed her.

It’s no wonder mother never wanted to discuss things she suspected would or might result in judgment. She had already suffered enough under that cruel mantle.

What I don’t think Mom ever knew is that there were also people who admired her and respected her for her bravery and fortitude. Few stood up to and survived that kind of systemic chastisement.

Mother’s cousin would be born in Silver Lake about the time Frank died, but before Mom’s Florida year. The cousin would grow up silently watching Mom, absorbing the fact that yes, one COULD leave and it was possible for a female to select a different path.

By the time her cousin was old enough to have internalized those epiphanies, Mom had passed through the gates of grief and was doing much better. All that was left for her young cousin to see was a brave woman who had beaten the odds. My cousin had no idea how painful and difficult that journey had been.

And yes, if you haven’t guessed, Mom also raised another one of those women.

Mother, on this, the anniversary of your passing from this earth, You Raise Me Up.

Go Rest High on That Mountain, now. Your work is done and you deserve it.

And Mom, I Really, Really Hope You’re Still Dancing.

I will forever miss you.

Thank you for persevering, even when it was horrifically painful and seemed impossible.

You won.


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Where Was Peter Johnston (c1720-c1794) in 1775? – 52 Ancestors #355

Working with my cousin, Greg Simkins, we’ve proven that we share common ancestors in the article DNA Shows Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips Are My Relatives, But Are They My Ancestors?.

In the weeks since I wrote that article, I’ve been digging, and digging, and digging. By now, I’m about halfway to China, I’m sure.

Let’s start in the middle, at the most important part, because if I can ELIMINATE Peter Johnson as my ancestor, Dorcas Johnson’s parent, then I don’t really need to reconstruct all of Peter Johnson’s life. Right?

Conversely, I’d love to confirm him as my ancestor.

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus and other ways) has been attributed as one of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips’ children, but the source of that information has always been murky. Maybe murky isn’t the right word. Absent would be more accurate.

What we do know is that Dorcas or Darcus Johnson married Jacob Dobkins in Shenandoah County, Virginia in 1775.

We also know that Margaret Johnson, also attributed as a daughter of Peter Johnston and his wife married Jacob’s brother, Evan Dobkins on January 30, 1775 in the same location.

Dunmore County was formed in 1772, then renamed Shenandoah in 1778. Dunmore County records are now Shenandoah County records.

Of course, the Revolutionary War occurred during this timeframe – and that’s evident looking at the marriage records. 1775 looks to be nearly complete, at least through early October. Records end at that point, with nothing in 1776. Five marriages are recorded in 1777, then one in 1782. People didn’t stop getting married. The records are missing.

I was hoping to find another Johnson or Johnston who married during this timeframe, but no cigar on this one.

It’s worth noting that the Shenandoah County index on Ancestry is incomplete and does NOT list the Johnston/Dobkins marriages while the transcribed records in the same book, if you read page by page, do.

Tax Records

I located an obscure tax list for the rent rolls for Dunmore County, VA from 1774-1776.

Part of that tax list had been published, so I joined an organization simply to access those lists in their past journals. Unfortunately, the excepts were only for the families of interest to a specific researcher, not the entire tax list.

I contacted the Library of Virginia who referred me elsewhere.

I discovered that the Huntington Library in San Marino, California owns those original tax lists as part of the Robert Alonzo Brock Collection, Fairfax Family Northern Neck Proprietary papers, 1675-1843, Series V. Personal papers collection, Accession 41008, Reel 4624.

I contacted the Huntington library and was told the tax lists have not been transcribed, but are microfilmed. I was welcome to come in and read them in person.

That’s not an option. I cannot visit in person, and my local library does not participate in interlibrary loan. I reached out to nearby colleges and universities where I was also told that “no one has microfilm readers anymore.”

The helpful Huntington librarian informed me that they have a digitization option if the records can be safely handled. I requested a quote, paid the bill, and a few weeks later, received the digitized records.

I was SO VERY EXCITED. Would I find Peter Johnston living beside or near the Dobkins family? Or maybe a different Johnston family?

Hmmm, no Johnston, Johnson or anything similar.

Worse yet, NO DOBKINS or anything similar either.

This is NOT a full tax list. It’s probably just a list for one district. And not the right district either.

Clearly, it does NOT include the area where John Dobkins, Jacob and Evan’s father, lived.

What other records exist that might show us if Peter Johnston, or some other Johnston, lived in Dunmore/Shenandoah County, or even a neighboring county?

Where did Jacob and Evan Dobkins parents live? Did they live near a county border? Should I also be looking in an adjacent county for Johnston/Johnson males?

I’m getting desperate.

What’s Next?

I found a book, Life Along Holman’s Creek by Rev. J. Floyd Wine written in 1982, and of course, out of print.

John Dobkins had a land grant on or near Holman’s Creek, so I thought this book might include something about both John Dobkins and, if I’m lucky, Peter Johnston.

Sure enough, I found John Dobkins right on Holman’s Creek.

Now we’re cooking with gas. I started reading every grant individually. Of course, this map of land grants probably doesn’t include more than the first sale, if that. Any subsequent sale after the land was originally applied for through a warrant or granted via patent would have been recorded. Sometimes the sale occurred between those two steps.

I discovered something alright, but not at ALL what I expected.


Those neighbors names look really familiar. Zirkle. Where did I see that before?

Wait!!!! What????


These are my MOTHER’S SIDE Miller line relatives from Pennsylvania and Maryland. Living right next to my father’s ancestor, John Dobkins.


I knew that there had been oral history of the Garbers and Wine’s along with my ancestor’s son, Lodowick Miller moving to Shenandoah County after their land was confiscated in Maryland for being unwilling to fight in the Revolution. Their Brethren pietist religion forbade taking up arms.

Here they are, neighboring John Dobkins in Shenandoah County.

Good Heavens. What a mess I have.

Ummm, The Alternate Glass is Full View

Now, however, for the good news. The mitochondrial DNA of my ancestor Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena tracks back through matches to the Zircle/Circle family and perhaps to the Myer(s) family. The Circle family is listed right with several Millers. Notice Henry Myer with more Zirkle/Circles.

I may have just accidentally hit the motherlode and now “all I have to do” is track these families back to either Frederick County, MD or York Co., PA around 1750 AND see if I can find a Magdalena among the proper families. This is a LOT more difficult than it seems because many Brethren families didn’t file wills or deeds with county clerks.

I need to spend time unraveling this knot, but today, I’m searching for Johnston. Johnston – not Miller/Garber/Myer/Zirkle/Wine. We find one Jacob Stutzman too, and the Stutzman family is closely allied with the Millers. In fact, the original Johann Michael Miller immigrant was half brothers with Jacob Stutzman.

Ironically, this means I’m related to the author whose ancestors are probably buried in the Wine Cemetery right on Holman’s Greek. Lodowich Mueller/Miller settled in Shenandoah County about the time of the Revolution. His daughter, Susannah married Michael Wine whose family had also migrated from the Frederick County, Maryland area.

Fortunately, the book has a lovely index, and there is NOT ONE SINGLE JOHNSTON or similar surname.

Struck out AGAIN!

Chancery Suits

Would I be lucky enough for Peter Johnston or any Johnston from Shenandoah County to be listed in a chancery suit? The Virginia State Library provides a chancery index, but I found no evidence of any Johnston other than a 1799 suit in which one George Oakley states that he bought a track of land in “Gooney Run” from George Johnston “some considerable time ago,” but he does not say when. John Turner is the defendant who also apparently encroached onto Oakley’s land. The G in Gooney may not be a G.

This does not seem relevant.

Land Grants

I was not able to find any Northern Neck land grants for Peter Johnston. Nearby grants would be reflected on the Wine map, and they are not.

Deeds and Court Notes

I still have my fingers crossed for either deeds or court notes.

I used Family Search’s wiki and catalog, here.

I found that Family Search has digitized Shenandoah County Deed Books A, B, C and D from 1772-1784. There are no Johnson or Johnston deeds.

I reviewed the next four years, just in case.

In 1787, William Johnson Jr and Bryan Johnson served as witnesses.

The court records don’t seem to exist for this timeframe.

I’m really striking out.

What’s left?

What Else is Available?

Four separate books have been written about the Johnson family.

The book, Johnson Records – With Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons by Helen Clark Biedel was copyrighted in 1955.

This book quotes from earlier books and focuses on the records of the author’s line.

I took copious notes, but found myself terribly frustrated.

I was hoping to discover why Dorcas Johnson and her sister, Margaret were attributed to Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips.

That information was omitted.

Much of what was reported just didn’t make sense. Sources provided conflicting information, but Helen copiously reported it all for the reader to digest. She couldn’t figure it out either.

Excavating the Box

I’ve been unpacking boxes in my office and putting things away.

In a file folder labeled Johnson, I discovered another book. Actually, it’s a copy of a portion of a book that I found at the Allen County Public Library. They have an awesome family history book collection.

The Johnson Gathering , The Family History of Peter Johnson (c1720-c1796), Allegheny Co., PA by Eric E. Johnson was published in 2001.

Eric wrote a wonderful book, carefully analyzing earlier works and adding his own research as well. Better yet, it’s fully footnoted and sourced.

Eric divided the work into three parts. I’ll quote relevant information from each, while adding my own work.

Peter Johnston’s Early Years

We don’t know where Peter was born, but on April 26, 1742, he received a 100-acre land warrant in Hopewell Township, Lancaster County, PA, the part that became Cumberland County in 1750 and then Antrim Township in Franklin County in 1784.

Peter’s land was located in Robert Crunchton’s settlement, between Crunchton’s property and the temporary dividing line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. When Petre’s land was surveyed, it was actually 152 acres with the southern border on the temporary line. He and wife Mary sold this land warrant in August 1769 to James Cross.

Both signed with their marks. I’m incredibly grateful to Eric for not only finding his signature on several original documents, but comparing it to assure that this was the same man in various locations. He consistently signed with his mark, which the county clerks faithfully drew in each book when the documents were recorded.

I converted the temporary state line information obtained from the Royal Court in England from 39 degrees, 43 minutes and 18 second into latitude to locate the temporary state line. Of course, we don’t know the exact longitude location on that line for Peter’s land, but if it’s exactly dead center south of Greencastle, it’s located at the red pin, below.

Antrim township runs along the state line from the red arrow at right to the red arrow at left, a total of approximately 5 miles.

Remember that I mentioned that the Dobkins family is found beside the Miller family, including Lodowick in Shenandoah County, Virginia? The Miller land in Frederick County, MD is located in and near the red square.

If Peter were at least 22 years old when he applied for his original land in 1742, that places his birth in 1720 or earlier. I’d say it is more likely that he was closer to 30, which would place his birth about 1712, more or less. We can safely say that Peter was born sometimes between 1710 and 1720, but no later than 1721.

Two of the other Johnson books state that he was born about 1735 and arrived from Scotland. He clearly did not apply for land at the age of 7. One of the other books states his birth location was either Holland or Sweden.

More on this later.

In 1745, Peter also applied for 500 acres of land in Washington County, MD, the portion that would become Frederick County, Maryland. For reference purposes, there are 640 acres in a square mile so Peter owned just over that much – a total of 652 acres between both parcels.

This land was obtained from Thomas Cresap, and was literally ON the temporary state line, which means it was involved in that long-standing boundary dispute aptly named Cresap’s War.

Peter’s land, named “Johnson’s Desire” in Frederick County was surveyed and stated to be “about 5 miles from where the line crosses Conegocheeg.”

Fortunately, we know exactly where the line crosses Conococheague Creek because that’s the left line of Antrim Township at the red arrow, above.

Using Google Map’s scale, approximately 5 miles is almost exactly on this small branch of Marsh Run, above.

This appears to be the old state line, named State Line Road.

This area is lush farmland today. The red dot is where the tip of the spring is located. All farms needed fresh water.

Peter’s land probably encompassed a total of about 650 acres, more than a square mile, approximately the area shown above. It could have been shifted slightly north including the State Line Road, but one thing is certain. There was at least one, if not two working farms which are likely still working farms today, perhaps even with some of the same buildings. If not, the houses and barns are likely located in the same location as the originals. The heart of a farm doesn’t change.

A view of one farm looking south driving along State Line Road, with the mountains in the background.

This very old barn at the bend in the road might well have been Peter’s, or one of his neighbors. Note the vintage home in the background.

Below, from Reidtown Road in Maryland, looking north across what was assuredly Peter’s land.

I don’t know where, exactly, but Peter’s land bordered the old state line, the larger portion found in Maryland.

On the map above, State Line road is marked with red arrows at top.

There are several large farms that could have been Peter’s original land, and eventually, his son Richard’s.

These farms were and still are owned by German Brethren families. Even today, the nearby Hollowell Church is Brethren.

In 1756-1757, Peter was living in Pennsylvania, according to the tax debt book of Washington County. His land was west of the South Mountains, which fits this location perfectly.

After 1757, he moved across the border to Maryland and in 1766, sold a small part of this land to Abraham Gantsinger without his wife’s signature. In 1770, he, with wife Mary, sold land to Henry Stalb and recorded the deed to James Cross.

Eric suggests that Mary Polly Philips may have died and Peter remarried during this time to another Mary. That’s certainly possible, but I’ve also seen lots of wives accidentally omitted from deed records.

Another reason may have been that Mary had taken refuge elsewhere during the French and Indian War. Yes, Peter Johnson was living in the middle of a war.

The French and Indian War

These photos look peaceful and idyllic today, but this area wasn’t always this way.

There is a good possibility that Peter was a member of the local militia during the French and Indian War between 1753 and 1763.

In Franklin County, PA, there was a blockade called “Cross’s Fort” that was attacked by Indians in July and August of 1757. In the book about this war by Louis Waddel, it states that the fort was ‘located on the Conococheague (River), probably in Franklin County There may been a connection between Peter and this fort. Peter sold his land to James Cross in 1769. This James Cross may be related to the Cross’s who built the fort. If so, his mother was a Miller. You can read more about Cross’s Fort and the war with the Indians, here.

Beginning in 1755, Frederick County was literally abandoned. Everyone found someplace to go. I wrote about these events in the article about Magdalena Miller, here – start with the section titled “New Life in Frederick County, Maryland”.

Often, the fleeing families went “back” to wherever than had come from, seeking refuge with relatives. Sometimes the local ministers shepherded the women and children while the men remained to guard the farms – until they simply could no longer do so.

Where did the Johnston family go during this time? If they were married about the time Peter received his first land grant in 1742, their eldest child would have been coming of age during this time and they would have had a household full of children to keep safe. Furthermore, Mary was till giving birth in 1765, so would have been pregnant and having babies someplace in exile.

Philip Jacob Miller and his family lived near Maugansville, just a few miles from Peter Johnson. Note that Peter Johnson’s migration path paralleled the Millers to Bedford County, then to Shenandoah as well.

Many who remained in the Cumberland and Frederick County area were scalped in 1756. Frederick County was entirely abandoned in 1757 and 1758. Many residents returned slowly, not at all certain that the area was safe again. Most had to rebuild everything from scratch.

By 1763, Pontiac’s War began and once again, Frederick County and the surrounding area was abandoned, at least into 1764.

Pontiac’s War ended in 1768 and the western frontier opened. Some people returned, settled on their existing lands, and rebuilt, but many either returned slowly, or not at all. If one had to rebuild, did they want to rebuild there or someplace on the new frontier? The years between 1753 and 1769 had been hell on the frontier. Why not try someplace new.

Antrim Township

Taxes are a wonderful thing. Because the land in Pennsylvania actually belonged to William Penn, settlers received warrants which meant they could live on the land and improve it, eventually would receive a patent, but had to pay yearly rent/tax to the proprietor. Often those tax lists still exist.

Eric tells us that Peter Johnson is found on the Antrim Township tax list between 1751 and 1770, nearly 20 years, with a few missing.

  • 1751
  • 1753
  • 1762-66
  • 1768-69
  • 1770

His name is spelled variously as Jonston and Johnston.

The years where Peter is absent could be due to the fact that the family had evacuated, or, the lists may not exist at all. Those absentee years line up exactly with the French and Indian War evacuations.

If Peter was born about 1710, he would have been nearing 60 by 1770. If born in 1720, he would have been 50. Not a young man anymore. Most men of that age simply want to farm their existing land, not clear new land on the frontier. Clearing land is backbreaking, dangerous work.

The tax lists of 1762-1769, except for 1763, show Peter with 100 acres of land. 1763 shows him with 150. The 1769 list indicates that he cleared half of his land, so 50 acres, tree by tree. He sold his land in 1769 and in 1770, has only a horse and a cow.

Beginning in 1768, his son Richard begins paying taxes separately, suggesting that Richard is perhaps 25 years old, more or less, and likely the eldest son and married. This suggests he was probably married by 1767.

If Richard was born in 1743, that correlates nicely with Peter’s land grant in 1742.

In 1769, Richard’s name is spelled as Derrick and in 1770, he has a warrant of his own for 70 acres.

Solomon’s Bible Records

The Bible of Peter’s son, Solomon either still exists or did exist when one of the earlier books was being written.

That Bible record gives Solomon’s birth location as “near Greencastle, PA” which is indeed in Antrim Township of present-day Franklin County.

Eric tells us that it’s Solomon’s Bible records that provide a list of the names of the children of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, including Mary’s name. I’ve added summary information for each child.

  • James Johnson – Born in 1752, married Elizabeth Lindsey in 1783, moved to Harrison, then Knox County, Indiana, and died in Lawrence County, Illinois in 1826. He was a private in the Revolutionary War, serving with his brother Richard in Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County, PA.
  • Polly Johnson – nothing known
  • Dorcas Johnson – My ancestor, born about 1748, married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 and moved to Tennessee.
  • Rebecca Johnson born about 1755. One book reports that she married John Stephens/Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia. One John Stephens served with her brother Richard in the Revolutionary War.
  • Rachel Johnson – May have married a John Dobbins (Dobkins) and moved to Knox County, Indiana by 1807.
  • Derie (Derrick, Deverick, Darrick, Richard) Johnson – Born in 1746, moved to Jefferson County, Ohio in 1801 on land purchased from a John Johnson of Washington Co., PA. The deeds states that Richard is from the same location. (Note that earlier researchers have speculated that Derie is short for Derrick, the Dutch name for Richard.) His will was probated in April of 1818. He married first to Dorcas Dungan around 1764 but before 1768, probably either in Pennsylvania or wherever the family sheltered during Pontiac’s War. She died after having one known child, Polly. Richard married in 1774 to Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County.
  • Solomon Johnson – Born in January of 1765 near Greencastle, PA, was married to Fanny Warne in 1790 in Allegheny County by the Presbyterian minister and remained on Peter’s land in Allegheny Co, PA until his death in 1843. Solomon did exactly what his father did – deeded his land to two sons before his death. Solomon and his wife are both buried at Round Hill Cemetery. Solomon visited his brother in Ohio at least twice. Solomon named one of his children after his sister, Dorcas who was living near Bull’s Gap, Tennessee, and she named a son Solomon.

I hope they had letters, because it’s doubtful Dorocas and Solomon ever saw each other again.

It was a very long, treacherous, mountainous way from Bull’s Gap to Allegheny County. They obviously loved one another. Dorcas was the oldest female and Solomon, her baby brother some 17 years younger. She likely took care of him as a child, especially if their mother did die.

The Mystery Solved!

Eric found Peter and Mary’s children’s names in two separate books, although the second only shows children Richard, Solomon and Mary. Mary is not found in the first book. However, Polly, a common nickname for Mary, is.

So, we’ve FINALLY solved the mystery of where the information about Dorcas arose. Now we know the source of why Dorcas was attributed to Peter – and it’s a Bible record. I do wish we had a copy of the actual Bible record itself, but this will suffice.

Eric goes on to report from the earlier sources that Dorcas married Reuben Dobbins and Rachel married another Dobbins whose name may have been John. He doesn’t know where they went or what happened to these daughters, but I do.

This information is partially accurate.

Dorcas married Jacob Dobkins in 1775.

Margaret married Evan Dobkins in 1775.

But what about Rachel? What other Dobkins boys were available?

Reuben Dobkins married Elizabeth or Polly Holman whose father was Capt. Jacob Holman of Holman’s Creek fame.

John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman, Polly’s sister.

Of course, that doesn’t mean either of those men couldn’t have married twice, or that the info I have about their wives is accurate.

Eric stated that nothing more is known of Dorcas, Rachel or Mary.

Mary may be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. Eric suggested that perhaps Mary was Richard’s daughter, Polly, the child of his first wife. Richard didn’t remarry (that we know of) for several years, and it’s certainly possible that Peter and Mary raised this grandchild.

It’s also possible that yet another daughter, Rachel, married another Dobkins brother.

The Revolutionary War Years

This is where Peter’s life gets quite interesting. It’s obviously critical to discover where Peter was in 1775 when his daughters were marrying in Dunmore County. Those girls certainly weren’t traveling alone. They wouldn’t have been before the war, but they assuredly were not during a conflict.

We know their two brothers served in Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County, PA, but where was Peter and where was his family?

Peter sold the last of his land in Maryland in 1770 and disappears, resurfacing in Bedford County, PA in 1772 as a single freeman, which I find rather odd. I should probably mention that several Brethren families from Frederick County also went to Bedford County, including…you guessed it…the Millers.

As an interesting tidbit, one of the older family histories reported that Peter’s wife, Mary only spoke Dutch. “Dutch” could have been German, meaning “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Of course, that would also mean that Peter had to have a command of the language she spoke. Or this could be nothing more than a myth, but Peter’s settlement among and movements with the German families needs to be taken into consideration. Of course, that could be nothing more than local influence. People talked and shared concerns and information.

In 1773, Peter is listed in Rostraver Township which was at that time, all of southwest Pennsylvania. He is listed as an “inmate” which doesn’t mean what we think of today. In that time and place, according to Eric, an inmate was “a boarder or renter of land whose personal property is taxable.” In other words, he was probably renting a farm and trying the area out before purchasing. He would likely have stayed at least one growing season. He obviously left, because his daughters married in 1775 in Shenandoah (then Dunmore) County, VA.

Part of Rostraver Township became Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County in 1788 where Peter eventually settled.

Peter is absent in the official records for an entire decade, then we find him again in 1783 and 1786 in Rotsraver Township, then located in Westmoreland County.

The “Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families” states that Peter spent the Revolutionary War years in Virginia, but provides no additional information. Eric says there was circumstantial evidence that he was in Virginia, but doesn’t say what that evidence is.

One of the Johnson books that Eric utilized stated that Peter came from Winchester, which is found in Frederick County, VA, which Eric suggests is accurate, in part because it’s the head of Braddock’s Road that led to Fort Pitt that would one day become Pittsburg. Peter’s Allegheny County property was in this vicinity, just a few miles south of the end of Braddock’s Road. Braddock’s Road may have passed as close as two miles away, near Round Hill, following an Indian trail.

Frederick County, VA, is about 50 miles from Holman’s Creek where John Dobkins lived, and this part of Shenandoah County was at one time Frederick County. Note that Frederick Co., MD is not the same as or connected to Frederick County, VA.

One item reported by Eric that may or may not be relevant is a Frederick County, VA deed from one Richard and Percilla Johnson in 1773 which mentions their son, Peter. We have no idea if this is the same Peter. I don’t have a copy of this deed and I can’t find anything online about this couple. Our Peter would have been between 53 and 63 in 1773.

Of course, we have Dorcas and Margaret marrying the two Dobkins boys in Shenandoah County in 1775, then some Peter appears again in Cumberland County, PA in 1778, taking an oath of allegiance.

Is this the same Peter?

Was Peter going back and forth between Virginia and Pennsylvania?

In 1777, all Cumberland County males between the ages of 18 and 53 were drafted to serve in the local militia units to protect the residents from Indian attack. If Peter were born in 1710, he would have been 67 by that time. If he were born in 1720, he would have been 57.

Later, a Peter Johnson is reported in the militia in Cumberland County. It’s difficult to believe this is our Peter, because we know that by 1773, Peter was in Bedford County and by 1775, in Shenandoah County, VA with his family. I have to wonder if there is another Peter Johnson we don’t know about. Our Peter does not have a reported son by the name of Peter.

Eric suggests that Peter’s first wife, Mary died between Solomon’s birth in January of 1765 and the deed without her name in April of 1766.

The 1783 tax record for Westmoreland County shows Peter and one other person. Most of Peter’s children would have been grown by this time, except perhaps for Solomon who was born in 1765 and would have been 18. This tax list was supposed to determine the number of people in a household, so it should have been complete.

Did the Johnston and Dobkins Families Know Each Other?

I’m still looking for some connection between the Johnston and Dobkins families.

These families clearly came into contact with each other. Is there any indication that they knew each other before, or even after, 1775?


In the Augusta County, VA will book, one William Hill wrote his will January 27, 1748 and died a few months later. His wife’s name was Mary and she was the executor along with Thomas Moore. The witnesses were John Dobikin and Isaac Johnson who both proved the will on May 17, 1749.

John Dobikin is another spelling for John Dobkins, the father of the Dobkins boys.

But who was Isaac Johnson?

Did these men know each other. Were they related, either to each other or the Hill family?

This may or may not be significant. Remember that name, Isaac Johnson, because you’ll see it again later.

Later Years

Peter secured a land warrant for his Rostraver Township land in 1786 when it was still a part of Westmoreland County. It was surveyed in 1787 by which time it was in Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County.

Peter’s neighbor, Joseph Warne, whose daughter married Solomon Johnson, settled on his land in 1769 and obtained a Virginia title. Joseph had to have it resurveyed and the title reissued by Pennsylvania after the border dispute was settled in 1780. Yes, Peter Johnston moved to yet another location with a border dispute. In fact, it was the very same border dispute, just the westward end. The entire border dispute was eventually settled when the Mason-Dixon line was surveyed. 

In 1788, Joseph Warner’s patent states that the land to his west, which would have been Peter’s land, was vacant.

However, the survey map clearly shows Johnston’s land, Johnston spelled with the t.

Where was Peter Johnston living or was the Warner survey in error?

Peter’s land warrant states that he had to pay interest from 1780, which definitively places him on this specific piece of land by that time. 1780 was also the date at which a land dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia involving this land was resolved and Pennsylvania became the taxing authority.

The 1790 census shows one Andrew Johnston (page 1), who isn’t known to be related and a William Johnson as well. We find Solomon Johnson with 1 male under 16, 1 male over 15, and one female. His name is written beside the Applegate family which tells us Solomon is living in the homeplace. Peter’s granddaughter, Polly Johnson through son Richard Johnson married Garrett Wall Applegate.

We know that Peter’s son, Richard Johnston was still living there, or at least owned land in 1790, even though he does not appear in the census.

Recorder’s office, Allegheny Co., Pa., Vol. 2, p. 222: 4-18-1790 Peter Johnston, Allegheny Co., Elizabeth Twp., Yeoman, to Solomon Johnston 133 A. “drain of Monongahela River in Elizabeth Twp., Allegheny Co., adjoining lands of Joseph Beckett, Richard Johnston, William Applegate, and heirs of Joseph Warne. Deed to said Peter 5-28-1787 City of Philadelphia. To Solomon, his ” junior son” with ” the fatherly love and affection which he hath and doth bear ” for Solomon and 5 shillings. Peter reserves use for life. Witnessed Joseph Beckett, Lucy Beckett, James Clendenin. Recorded 9-18-1790.

On 4-24-1790 Peter Johnston appeared to acknowledge writing and receipt of money.

In 1791, Richard purchased the 224 acres of land of Thomas Applegate immediately adjacent his father. Maybe that’s where he had been living all along.

On November 25, 1798, Peter’s land patent for 152.75 acres on a branch of the Monongahela River called Waggoner’s run was issued to his youngest son, Solomon. Peter had deeded this land, called “Peace” to Solomon on April 18, 1790 which was recorded exactly 5 months later. The deed states that Peter has possession for the balance of his life, although he would be unlikely to be able to work the land. Solomon couldn’t sell the land until after Peter’s death. By this time, Peter would have been at least 70 years old if he was born in 1720 and approaching 80 if born in 1710.

Perhaps after living in two areas contested by two states, and moving back and forth several times, Peter had finally found his peaceful place and named it thus.

In 1798, Solomon is taxed as the owner of a two-story house, 22X26 with 7 windows and 84 lights. Lights would be candles, but that’s a lot of candles.

This is a very large house for this timeframe. This was likely 8 11×13 rooms, or maybe just 6 with one large room downstairs. That would explain the 7 windows. One room would clearly be the kitchen. The upstairs rooms would have been bedrooms, or at least the bedrooms for the children.

This home was very likely built by Peter and likely where he died as well. A visit to the courthouse would probably allow us to bring those deeds forward in time and trace the exact land, but I can do a fairly good job using the old plat map plus Google Maps today.

Let’s take a drive.

Peter Johnson’s “Peace”

Forward Township is located just south of Pittsburg, bordered by the Monongahela River on the north, west, and south sides.

This is a rough estimate, of course, based on the original survey and the land today. The contours of the river help immensely, as do the streams.

The road south of Peter’s land parallels the river, and the land on the north side of that road rises away from the river. In other words, Peter’s land would not flood.

The small roads that border Peter’s land on the east and west are upon treed ridges.

Rostosky Ridge Road probably travels over a small piece of Peter’s land or at least abuts it on the west and the same for Sunnyside Hollow Road on the east.

I “drove” up both hoping to get a view of the cleared land that Peter, then Solomon would have farmed.

Of course, in Peter’s day, no road existed, and the entire area he had to clear was original growth forest.

I’m fairly certain this was adjacent Peter’s land

The right turn onto unpaved Country Lane which leads to two houses continues to rise. Those two houses were assuredly on Peter’s land.

The next turn, on the right side, rises too, but it’s at least paved.

However, the paved road appears to facilitate trucks, perhaps, while the unpaved road just leads to homes.

In this view, the first dirt “Country Lane” leads to the barns and house. The second paved road, at left, leads to what looks like a surface mining operation of some sort.

At least part of Sunnyside Hollow Road appears to have actually been on Peter’s land when comparing the terrain map with the land grant map, looking at streams and watercourses.

The little creek on the east is today called Sunfish Run. Peter’s warrant mentions Waggoner’s Run, which is not reflected on any current map, but appears to be present-day Sunfish Run. Most smaller springs would have been unnamed or just known as “Peter’s spring.” Fresh water and a good spring was critical in selecting a homesite. The house was not located far from the head of the spring so that the water was always fresh and clean.

Peter’s land was sheltered by the rapid rise beside the Monongahela River and by the forest. His land had freshwater streams, was relatively flat, clearable, and farmable. Indeed, we can see the assets that would have attracted the family to settle here.

This little bridge on Sunnyside Hollow Road correlates with the small stream on Peter’s land. Below this bridge, guardrails protect the left side of the road from a steep drop, but above, the land again rises to the left.

I can’t help but wonder where Peter’s house was located on this land.

Was it roughly where the houses are today?

They look to be somewhat centered on his land.

This zoomed in view shows the present-day property lines. Peter’s original survey lines are still clearly visible.

Click to enlarge images.

Here’s the north portion of Peter’s survey lands

And here’s the south part.

This indicates that a portion of the large branch stream that runs west to east and connects with Sunfish Run was indeed owned by Peter, which means his land extended further north than I thought. Maybe that was Waggoner’s Run.

Now that we know exactly where Peter’s lands laid on Sunnyside Hollow Road, let’s start on his boundary and drive up the road.

You can see the stream running along the road, at right.

This curve is the point where Peter’s land stopped and the stream crossed what is now the road, and runs along the left side of the road to the Monongahela. Peter owned a strip of land on the east side as well.

Was Peter’s land carved in the unusual shape it was in order to provide Peter with this intersection of streams?

I don’t know what crops Peter grew, but today, sunflowers are widely grown in the region, with sunflower fields located just a mile or so north of Peter’s land.

In other places, driving the roads near Peter’s land, the farms look like any other farms – plowed fields and bales of hay.

This panoramic view from a high point a mile or so further north overlooks Peter’s land and those hills in the distance.

Did Peter ever stand on his land overlooking the Monongahela and think about those years living near Holman’s Creek back in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 200 miles and a lifetime distant? Did he wonder about his two daughters who had married there, then moved on to Tennessee with their new husbands. Did he regret that he had moved to Virginia, even for that short time because his daughters were forever gone?

They weren’t the only ones of course. Eventually, all of his children, except Solomon would set out for the west-ward-moving frontier. By selling his land to Solomon, Peter delayed the inevitable by one generation. Eventually, all of Solomon’s children would leave Pennsylvania behind.

Peter’s Death

Peter’s patent was transferred to Solomon on November 25, 1796, which is the date associated with Peter’s death. However, I’m not convinced he didn’t die before the census in 1790 since he retained right to the land in the deed.

He signed the deed on April 24, 1790 but as of the census day, August 2, 1790, he is not recorded as living with Solomon.

One of the earlier family histories states that both Peter and Mary were buried in the now-sprawling Round Hill Cemetery in nearby Elizabeth Township.

If this is accurate, then clearly Mary did not die in Cumberland County, PA between 1765 and 1766.

I don’t know if this burial location is speculation based on the assumption that Peter was from Scotland or Scots-Irish, or if it was based on something more. Round Hill is a Presbyterian Cemetery established in 1786. Several members of the Warne (Warner) family are buried there and it’s likely that Solomon Johnson is as well. Joseph Warne was one of the church founders, as well as Peter Johnson’s neighbor. Round Hill may have been the only available church to attend conveniently, and as one of my cousins once said, many attended the “church of convenience” as opposed to their preferred denomination which may have been absent where they lived.

The Round Hill Cemetery is about 5 miles from where Peter lived in Elizabeth Township. The Warne family lived between Peter and the church.

The reverend was the pastor from Cecil County, Maryland.

Peter’s Older Brother?

Peter Johnson reportedly had an older brother, James Johnson, Sheriff of Cumberland County.

The Johnson Records states that Peter came to this country with an older brother named James who was the Sheriff of Cumberland County. The Cumberland County tax lists up to 1765 show a James Johnston living in Antrim Township which is where Peter lived, but not near Peter – 4 or 5 miles as the crow flies.

They are the only two Johnston’s listed in this township. James died in 1765 and after this date the sons of James and Peter begin to appear in the tax returns.

Another source book, Your Ancestors, states that James was born in Rising Sun, Maryland and married first to Elizabeth Finley in 1732, then Elizabeth Brown in 1740. They lived near Shady Grove, about 3 miles east of Greencastle, while Peter lived on the border with Maryland.

A third source states that Elizabeth Finley, born Brown, married Major James Johnston of Annandale, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

James made a will in1764 and died in 1765, noting his wife and children:

  • James
  • Thomas
  • John
  • Robert
  • Mary
  • Elizabeth
  • Martha

Several works indicate that James came to America in 1735 from County Antrim, Ireland.

This could have something to do with the 1735 date attributed orally to Peter Johnston’s arrival.

James Johnston was reported to be born before 1710 in Scotland. He received a warrant in 1737 for 400 acres in Hopewell Twp., Lancaster Co., PA in an area that would become Antrim Township in Franklin County.

Three of his sons served in the Revolutionary War and are buried in the family cemetery at Shady Grove.

There is also speculation that James was actually the father of Peter, not his brother. We don’t know when James was born, but he died 30 years before Peter.

If he was Peter’s father, then clearly, Elizabeth whom he married in 1740/41 is not Peter’s mother.

A Y-DNA test of male Johnston/Johnson descendants of both of these lines would confirm or refute that these two men shared a common lineage.

Peter’s Origins

Peter settled in two areas that were populated by both the Scots, specifically Scots-Irish, and Germans. Both of these groups of people were utilized as a barrier on the frontier between the English planters and the Indians. Both the Germans and the Scots-Irish came later than the English and were hungry for both religious freedom and land.

In his will, Peter refers to his son, Solomon, as his “junior son” which is a Scottish term for any son not the first-born. At the time he wrote his will, two of his sons were living with or near him, and Solomon was the junior son of the two.

Of course, there are also reports that Peter is buried in the Round Hill Presbyterian Cemetery, also providing a Scots-Irish or Scottish hint.

The reports of Peter’s origins vary widely. One source reported that he was born in 1735 in Scotland, which cannot be accurate given that his first land grant was in 1742 and his eldest son, Richard, is found in tax records in Cumberland County beginning in 1768.

Another source reports that Peter Janson immigrated in 1753. It’s true that one Peter Janson did immigrate in 1753, but again, this man cannot be our Peter Johnston because our Peter had land dealings in 1742, 11 years before Peter Janson arrived in Philadelphia.

The same source that correctly reported that Peter had spent the Rev War years in Virginia also tells us he was born in Scotland.

Eric pointed out that Peter sold his land in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1769, the same year that the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was opened for settlement.

Eric provided the origin stories attributed to each of his sources in detail, in his book.

His sources are:

  1. The Biographical and Genealogical History of the Chapman-Johnson-Walace-Palmer family
  2. The Johnson Records with Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons
  3. The Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families
  4. A Genealogy of the Warne Family in America
  5. Solomon Johnson’s Bible Records
Source 1 2 3 4 5
Birth year 1735
Birth location Scotland Scotland Swedish or Dutch
Additional Info Pure Scottish but with Dutch noble lineage, has tartan Born in Amsterdam, Holland Peter is grandfather of Pres. Andrew Johnson
Settlement Settled in Swedish area of Wilmington, Delaware
Locations Lived in Head of Elk, MD and Winchester, VA Solomon born near Greencastle, PA
Surname Johnstone Janson, Jansem, Jonson Iensing or Iensen*
Wife Polly Polly Could not speak English when they married
Children Solomon, Derie, Polly, James, Rachel, Rebecca, Dorcas Richard, Solomon, Mary Solomon was their son Solomon son of Peter Johnson and Mary Philips
Family Older brother James
Military Served in Rev War
Immigration 1753 on the ship Richard from Rotterdam

*Early capital letters I and J were interchangeable.

Eric suggests that the author of the Chapman-Johnson book conflated the Lindsay and Johnson family oral histories regarding nobility.

It appears that the women who provided information to the author of the Johnson Records book conflated multiple Peter Johnsons, given that our Peter Johnson did not serve in the Revolutionary War. That book focused on son, Solomon.

The 1735 birth year and 1753 immigration date appear to be a conflation of multiple different Peter Johnsons, one of whom was from New York.

The report that Peter served in the Revolutionary War is much easier to understand, because another Peter did serve from Middlesex Township of Cumberland County.

Of course, I have to ask, who was that Peter?

Eric found nothing to connect James Johns(t)on in Cumberland County with Peter Johns(t)on. If they were brothers, I did find it unusual that Peter did not witness James’ 1764 will, nor did they seem to be connected or live close together.

However, Peter did name a child James, but James did not name a son Peter.

Eric states that James who died in 1765 was a descendant of the Johnson family of Annandale, Scotland who did have links to nobility.

Eric reports from the Book, Mother Cumberland, that the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania was nearly 100% Scotch or Scots-Irish in the 1740s and 1750s, so assuming that Peter was a part of that community was natural. However, that generalization isn’t true about Antrim Township, nor across the border in Frederick County, Maryland where many German families lived.

Eric concludes that Peter probably came from Cecil County, Maryland which was originally a part of New Sweden and later, New Netherlands before being taken over by the English. Dutch, Swedes, Finns and English settled there during the 1600s and early 1700s. Head of Elk is now Elkton, Maryland. This would also have been a safe place to seek refuge during the French and Indian War along with Pontiac’s War.

Eric points out that people surrounding Peter came from Cecil County. Peter’s son, Richard married Elizabeth Nash in 1774 who was from Cecil County. His first wife was Dorcas Dungan who he married between 1764 and 1767, during a time when the family would have been seeking refuge from Pontiac’s War someplace. There are Dungan’s found in Cecil County. One of Richard’s daughters also married into a Cecil County family. Perhaps even more compelling, though, is that the Rev. James Finley, the minister of the Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Allegheny County was from Cecil County.

Other families associated with Peter were from Cecil County, including: Allison, Caldwell, Crawford, Hicks, Phillips, Scott, Smith, and Thompson.

In Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County, many families originated in New Jersey which explains the nickname of “Jersey Settlement.” Many Dutch settled in New Jersey.

Dutch, Swedes and Finns

Eric’s research revealed that Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish families adopted the Johnson surname after the English took over New Amsterdam and New Sweden from the Dutch. All three of those countries used patronymics where Johnson would literally mean the son of John. In each generation, the surname would change to reflect the father’s given name. Peter Johnson’s son, Richard, would be named Richard Peterson in a patronymic system.

So while Johnson does sound English or Scottish, it was also a very common patronymic.

Eric reports that 6 Swedish or Finish families from New Sweden in Delaware adopted the Johnson name and two settled in Cecil County, Maryland. Three German families also utilized the Johnson surname. Dutch families from western Connecticut, New York and New Jersey did the same.

Richard Johnson, known as Dirk or Derrick died in Lancaster County in 1767, but no children are mentioned in his will. The family traditions of that family match the family traditions of Peter’s son, Richard.

The Dutch Cornelius Johnson settled in Frederick County, Maryland about 1750 after leaving New York and New Jersey.

Matthias Jonsson Hutt died in Salem County, New Jersey. Two of his sons, Oliver and Henry settled at Head of Elk, Cecil County, Maryland. Oliver had a son, Peter, born on May 31, 1720.

Of course, we can’t forget about Richard and Priscilla Johnson who were found in Frederick County, VA and mentioned a son named Peter in 1773.

A Peter Johnson and wife, Mary Ashcraft of Washington County, Maryland also had a son, Peter, but nothing more is known.

Who are Peter’s parents, and where did he come from before Lancaster County in 1742?

The DNA Story

As it turns out, DNA does indeed answer these questions – or at least points us in the right direction.

Peter’s descendants were scattered to the winds, their history forgotten. They would only be reunited again some 200+ years later by autosomal DNA.

However, it is Y DNA that provides the missing information about Peter’s ancestors. Autosomal DNA was critical in reuniting us, but can only do so much and stops short of what we need to unveil Peter’s ancestors and where they came from.

We need that elusive lynchpin puzzle piece.

What was Peter Johnston’s heritage? Where did his family come from? What do you think?

I’m not quite finished with this research, but I’ll answer this burning question in an article soon. Stay tuned!


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