52 Ancestors Challenge – 32

The theme this week refers to the number of the current week of the year…32 out of 52.  Difficult to believe more than one-half of the year has passed us by and I feel I still have many stories to share.  This theme was vague and left me to ponder many ideas.

I considered looking up important events that happened during different ancestors’ 32 year of life.  Fortunately Ancestry.com makes this an option with their timeline feature.  Most of the female ancestors I looked up had given birth in their 32nd year.  Quite surprising when you consider 32 years old seems older than we usually think about for childbirth these days.

My other thought was to find important events ancestors had lived through in the “32 years” – 1632, 1732, 1832, 1932 and so forth.  Unfortunately, this was much more difficult than I imagined and I’m ready to send Ancestry a suggestion for another feature they can add!

I settled on 32 questions I would like to ask an ancestor.  Specifically, I chose 32 different ancestors and have one question for them to answer.  If somehow from the great beyond they are able to send me the answers, please do so-preferably in a typeset page and signed by you or a letter written in your best penmanship, sealed with your personal seal in red wax.  Asking too much?

Without further ado, here is my list of “32 Questions I Wish To Know The Answers To”

  1. 2nd Great Grandfather – August Yess – Why did you leave Germany and who were your parents?  You’ve always been a difficult nut to crack and I seem to be willing to go to all ends of the earth to solve this one.  I’m learning German language this fall just to find clues!
  2. 2nd Great Grandmother – Permelia Jane Ellis Chenoweth – You had brothers and nephews and cousins who were involved in the Civil War. What kind of impact did it leave on you?
  3. 2nd Great Grandfather – Elias Birdine Chenoweth –  In your business papers, I have found many papers where you lent money to others and deeds where you purchased land.  What was your secret of business?
  4. 2nd Great Grandmother – Mary V. Peroni – You were born in France. Where, who were your parents and where did you meet your husband?  (That’s only one question even though there are several parts if you are keeping score.)
  5. 2nd Great Grandmother – Eleanor Senate Lawrence – What is the importance of your middle name?  I don’t seem to find any other connection to tell me why you have “Senate” as your middle name.
  6. 2nd Great Grandmother – Veronica Bootz (Schmitt) Smith – Was my 2nd great grandfather your second husband?  Some records seem to indicate that might be the case.
  7. 6th Great Grandfather – Hammond Harrison – You were born around 1715 in Yorkshire, England.  What was your occupation and what was your day-to-day life like?
  8. 7th Great Grandfather – John Chenoweth – You were born in St. Martin’s, Cornwall, England. In 1682 at age 23, you had immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland.   How difficult was the journey and why did our family choose Baltimore?
  9. 3rd Great Grandmother – Mariah Sherman – Are you related to General WilliamTecumseh Sherman?
  10. 3rd Great Uncle – Jonathan McBride Brown – You served in the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, but your son in law served for the Confederate Army.  Did you ever meet in battle?
  11. 4th Great Grandfather – Michael France – You were born in 1776 in Virginia.  What did your family share with you of that historic year?
  12. 2nd Great Grandfather – Daniel Medi – You and Mary had eight daughters and everyone of them had the first name of Mary.  (Mary Josephine, Mary Victoria, Mary Margaret, Mary Augusta, etc)  Beside the fact you apparently were a devout Catholic, what were you thinking?
  13. Great Grandfather – Thomas Edward France – You were sent West for your health and you went to the middle of Kansas.  Why did you pick Kansas?
  14. 3rd Great Grandmother – Eliza Jane Hulvey Sheets – During the Civil War, you went west to Illinois and during the trip, you and your children became ill with diptheria.  Who cared for you and when did you find out that four out of five of your children had died?
  15. Great Grandmother – Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake – You lived in Kansas on the prairie as a young woman. What was your life like helping to take care of your siblings in those days?
  16. 3rd Great Grandfather – Christian Swise – You were born in Hanover, Germany, but by age 26 you were in the United States and getting married.  Tell me what brought you here and about the journey.
  17. Great Grandfather – Thomas Edward France – Please tell me the story about you holding my grandmother, Vera, and your sister asking you what “brat” that was?  How did that make you feel?
  18. 2nd Great Grandmother – Teresa Hanlach Yess – You and my great grandfather, Augustus, came to Peoria, IL in the 1850’s and amassed quite an estate.  You outlived him and five of your six children.  How did you hold the estate together and who did you rely on?
  19. 2nd Great Aunt – Amanda Yess –  Documents show you were in a mental hospital in Bartonville.  What challenges were you facing that caused this?
  20. 2nd Great Aunt – Sarah Alice Salmans Abbott – You were the oldest of 10 children of Levi Franklin and Rosa Jane Brown Salmans. Your mother died when you were 22 and you remained at home until age 33 to take care of your siblings.  When you did marry at 33, tell me what your wedding day was like after caring for this large family?
  21. Grandfather John E. Yess – You lost your father before you were a year old.  When you were two, your mother remarried.  What was your relationship like with your step-father?
  22. Great Grandmother – Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine – You lost your father and mother within the same year.  One year later you gave birth to your second child, and within another nine months your husband passed away.  What did you do to survive?
  23. Great Grandmother – Amelia Jane Harrison Smith – You were born in 1868 and lived 83 years.  You came from a large family.  How close did you remain to your siblings throughout your life and what did you do to stay in touch?
  24. 2nd Great Grandfather – Johann B. Schmitt – John Smith – You were born in Bavaria in 1828 and immigrated to the United States.  What were your thoughts when you changed your name from a German version to an English version in 1856?
  25. 3rd Great Grandfather – Solomon Harrison Ellis – You were born in Georgia in 1805.  Why did you move to Illinois even though it appears the rest of your family remained in the South?
  26. 4th Great Grandfather – George Ellis – You were born in Mecklenburg County ,Virginia; by age 11, your family lived in Rowan County, North Carolina. You died in Copiah County, Mississippi. Tell me about the journeys of your life and why you moved so often?
  27. 6th Great Grandmother – Alida Lydia Pruyn Logan– (1707-1788) You lived in New York until you were 40 and then you and Andrew show up in South Carolina.  What was happening in South Carolina in the 1770’s and 1780’s during the Revolutionary War and how did it affect you?
  28. 5th Great Grandfather – (Major) Francis Logan – According to a descendant’s SAR application, you served as a Captain in the camp at Ninety Six, SC during the American Revolution.  What did you witness there and during your 93 years of life?
  29. Grandmother – Jessie Smith Yess  – I was fortunate to have you to ask questions of for much of my life, but what did you enjoy playing when you were a child?  I think you were a tomboy, is that correct?
  30. Grandmother – Vera France Chenoweth – Again, I was able to ask you many questions first hand, but you were very talented at crocheting, tatting, and sewing.  Who taught you these skills?
  31. Grandfather – Elzie Chenoweth – You answered many of my questions about family when I was a child, but was your mother a good cook and what was your favorite meal for someone to make for you?
  32. To all my ancestors – Did you ever feel you would be forgotten, because you haven’t.

I’ll let you know if I get any letters posted to me with red wax seals on them.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – INDEPENDENT

Emma Jane Harrison and George Edward Smith

Emma Jane Harrison Smith

As July 4th nears, I began thinking about the word “independent” and what definition I would use in this blog.  Obviously the Fourth reminds one of the independence of the American spirit as we became a new nation, but independent can also categorize people.  An individual can be less dependent on others.  They can carry an independent spirit or they can struggle to keep their independence as they age.  All these definitions can be used here.

Amelia (Emma) Jane Harrison was born March 21, 1868 to Robert William Harrison and Eleanor Senate Lawrence.  She married George Smith, who was five years her elder, in 1888 and during the next 23 years she gave birth to six children.  Her third child, Jessie Eleanor, was my grandmother making Emma Jane Smith my great grandmother.

Jessie Eleanor Smith Yess

Jessie Eleanor Smith Yess

Grandma Jessie always talked about her mother as a hard worker and the industrious type.  One could imagine how busy Emma Jane was running a household with six children.  Grandma’s father, Great Grandpa George Smith had a tendency for heading to town with her egg money at times to visit the tavern.  Keeping their head above water probably also made Emma Jane an independent woman.

Emma Jane’s father, Robert, died when she was only 22. She had given birth just a few months before to their first child, Blanche.  Emma’s mother, Eleanor Harrison, died when Emma was 54; her husband, George, died when she was 63 in 1931.  Emma lived until the ripe age of 85 and died November 20, 1953.  During her later years, she sometimes lived with my grandparents (John and Jessie Smith Yess).  She was used to doing something of worth every day and when her health and eyesight were no longer what they had been, she still felt the need to contribute to the daily housework at Jessie and John’s house.  Grandma Jessie would take newly-cut out tea towels and have her mother hem them each day.

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Sharon Yess Chenoweth

My mother, Sharon Yess, recalls watching her grandmother, Emma Jane, carefully hem the tea towels each day.  She also remembered watching her mother, at night after Emma had gone to bed, unhem the tea towels. The unhemmed towels were put back in a stack for stitching the following day.  In this way, Grandma Emma contributed to the housework in her mind and still felt some independence or worth.

Sharon Yess Chenoweth

Sharon Yess Chenoweth

I come from a long line of independent women.  I’m pretty sure our family motto was “Do It Yourself Because No One Else Will Do It”.  DIY is what we’re all about. I believe independent spirit can be handed down or bequeathed through DNA and I believe I have a double dose of independent spirit from both sides of my family.

Julie Chenoweth Terstriep

Julie Chenoweth Terstriep

.  Obviously our facial characteristics can be inherited too. As I loaded pictures of myself, my mom, my grandmother and my great grandmother, I was struck by the fact we all look quite a bit alike.  That must be what “Independent Spirit” looks like.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – There’s a Way

Veronica “Faroneka” Sophronia Bootz  – if that really was the correct spelling of her name, was my 2nd great grandmother.  She has always been an enigma.  German-born with a German last name, although again I suspect it is incorrectly spelled on documents in the United States, she insisted my 2nd great grandfather Johann Bernard Schmitt Anglicize his name before she would marry him.  He became John Bernard Smith.  It was 1856 in Peoria County, Illinois when they married.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

She is one of those story puzzles you work on in 3rd grade where several words are missing from sentences and you have to guess what will complete the story.  At this point, I don’t have the missing words to fill in much.  What I do know was she found a way  –  a way to leave Hesse-Darmstedt, Germany with one of her brothers, Peter,  and sister, Elizabeth, to avoid a physically abusive relationship with their father.

Family records are usually homogenized. If the victors of war write the histories, then the most politically-correct Casper Milquetoast individual must be the writer of family stories.  They are usually sugar-coated and boring. “George Edward was born in 1801, the third of five children….”  The truly interesting and rich family histories are those that reveal what life was really like –  REALLY like.

Fortunately some of those stories remain in the form of family letters written to an uncle in Peoria, IL.  For many years they were unreadable to my uni-lingual family.  We understand English and a few smattering of words from high school French and Spanish.  These letters were written in Old German- I don’t recall if it was Low German or High German.  A German professor at the nearby university translated them for my mother back in the late 1970s.  When we read the translation, we were stunned with the revelations disclosed to the uncle by Peter.  He blatantly states he and his sisters desire to come to the United States and live with their uncle as their father regularly beat them.  If you read between the lines it was obvious the uncle in the U.S. was well aware of it, but was much more kind to his nieces and nephews.  So physical abuse by their father – and the desire to see the United States and prosper in the new country led to a pleading letter.  There were a precious few letters between the two men.  Our family is not even sure why we have possession of them, but fortunately we do.

Peter, Elizabeth and Veronika Bootz found their way out of Germany and out of physical oppression at the hand of their father.  They found a way to get to Peoria, Illinois.  Veronika found Johann Bernard Schmitt and married him, soon to become Mrs. John Smith.   How ironic the brutal reality of their family letters wove a complicated tale about family relationships that was anything but simple or homogenized.  Yet, when she married and adopted the American spelling of her husband’s name, she became any other “Mrs. John Smith” in America.

She found a way to slip into the shadows of the new country perhaps to hide her abusive past.  Leaving the old country was not always about finding new found riches or abundant land, sometimes it was about blending in to the background or escaping your terrible past.  Most important was in a time when women had little decisions to make on their own and were often victims of their circumstances, Veronika and Elizabeth along with Peter found a way.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Where’s There’s a Will

It was familiar, it was local and it was hiding a family secret.  Not only had I lived near Western Illinois University my whole life, but I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the institution. I had visited the Leslie Malpass Library numerous times. Teachers do LOVE homework and especially homework with research.  Research leads to libraries.  Libraries HIDE archives….well, not literally, but most people don’t think to check them out.

The Illinois Regional Archives Depository, better known as IRAD, is located on seven different state university campuses in Illinois. (Yes, we did get this thing right as well as claiming Abraham Lincoln.) IRADs hold archival documents for the state, which include birth, marriage and death records, county board proceedings, land deeds, mortgages and tax sales as well as probate records.  Probate records – right there under my nose – on the sixth floor of the building where I was researching the impact of recreation facilities on students in higher education. Secrets are always kept in the attic.  Every child knows if you want to find Grandma’s good stuff, go to the attic.  You’ll find her flapper dress from the 1920’s or flower power child picture of her from the 1960’s.  You’ll find your parents report cards, 4-H records and school yearbooks in attics. Your mom’s favorite doll, your dad’s favorite toy car and baseball glove in the attic. The items that tell our family stories are stored in attics…or on the sixth floor of the Western Illinois University library in IRAD!

By chance, I went to the IRAD and was interested in the Peoria County, Illinois records they had.  I was actually looking for information on my 2nd great grandfather and grandmother, August and Theresa Yess, but what happened “leafed out” the branch of our family tree instead. My maternal grandmother’s family were English (Harrison) and German (Schmitt).  The Harrisons were prolific collectors of family history. Must be something English.  The Schmitts or Shmitts or Smiths only had a little information.  We knew they had come to Peoria, IL from Germany.  We knew their names were Johann Bernard Schmitt and Veronika “Sophronia” Bootz and we knew they would later own ground in Jubilee Township, Peoria County, Illinois. We knew their children’s names. There was little more than that to fill out the branches.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

This is where the “attic” on the sixth floor of Leslie Malpass Library came into play.  I asked in IRAD if they had any records for the name Bootz or Schmitt or Shmitt. (The last had to be a made-up spelling as that is not a combination of letters in German that are used – the “h” and “m” together.) Suddenly the lady returned with a legal-sized folder full of papers  – probate records.  This is the gold mine I found.

WILL OF JOHN B. SCHMITT In the name of God, Amen, I John B. Schmitt of the Town of Jubilee in the County of Peoria and State of Illinois of the age of 56 years and being of sound mind and memory do make publish and declare this my last Will and Testament in the manner following that in to say: FIRST: I give and bequeath to my wife, Veronica Schmitt all my possessions, both real and personal of what kind so ever together with all the appurtenances thereunto belonging to have and to hold for use and benefit during the term of her Natural life Time.

SECOND: At the Death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, I give and Bequeath to my Son, William Wallace Schmitt all the piece or parcals of Lands as followes – the North West quarter of Section Eleven together with the West half of South West quarter of Section Eleven all in Township Ten North Six East of the fourth principle Merridian. Together with all the hereditaments ad appurtenances thereunto belonging to have and to hold the premises above described to the said William Wallace Schmitt his Heirs and assigns forever.

THIRD: At the death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, I give an Bequeath to my son, George Schmitt, all pieces or pracals of Lands as followes – the North East quarter of Section Eleven and the East Half of South West quarter of Section Eleven to hold the premises above described with all the hereditaments and impertinences thereunto belonging to him the said, George Schmitt, his heirs and assignees forever. And I further provide that should theire be any back payments or incumberance on the North West quarter of Section Eleven at the death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, my son, George Schmitt, shall assign and pay one half of said indebtedness or should the title to the North West quarter of Section Eleven not be secured then the North East Quarter of Section Eleven and North West quarter of Section Eleven to be equally divided between my two sons, William Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt to be held to them their heirs and assignees forever.

FOURTH: At the death of my wife, Veronica, Schmitt, I give and bequeath to my daughter, Lizzie Schmitt Feaser, and her husband Wm. Feaser that piece or parcel of Land described as followes – the West half of the North West quarter of Section Twenty Six in Township Eleven North Six East of the fourth princaple merridian together with all the hereditaments and impertinences thereunto belonging to have and to hold for them and theire use during the term of their naturel life time and at the death of Lizzie Schmitt Feaser and her husband William Feaser to be equally divided among their Children of the said, Lizzie Schmitt Feaser share and share alike if an are living. Should there be none living at the time of their death when it shall be Equally divided between my Two Sons, William Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt, to be held to them their heirs and assignees forever. And further that any personal property belonging to my Eastate at the death of my wife Veronica Schmitt it shall be equally devided between my Two sons, Wiliam Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt, AND: Lastly, I hereby appoint my wife, Veronica Schmitt to be Executrix of this my last Will an Testament without Bonds. She to approve and pay all Lawfull debts owed by me at the time of my deceace and hereby revocking all former wills made by me.

WITNESS: Whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seale this day of October AD 1884. (sig) John B. Shmitt

The probate records also listed all his worldly possessions down to how many down feather ticks for the beds they owned.  The value of cattle and how many bushels of oats were also listed in the will and probate records. There it was!  Buried in a library at the University I attended and work at.

Next time your mother suggests you study at the library, better take her up on it.  You might find your relatives there.

52 Ancestor Challenge – Live Long

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

The Egyptians put great emphasis on keeping the names of their pharaohs  maintained on their tombs, in halls and records.  They believed their pharaohs were immortal as long as their names remained for everyone to see. Genealogy is not unlike that belief.  In maintaining records and family trees, we believe we can give some measure of immortality to our ancestors.

My parents were children of the late 1930’s; my grandparents were born in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.  I was fortunate enough to personally know all my grandparents.  I was even more lucky to hear the stories they told of their parents and grandparents.  And with that set of memories, I easily move back to the 1830’s – almost 185 years in the past.

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

The picture above is of my paternal grandparents, Elzie Chenoweth (1897-1986) and Vera France Chenoweth (1902 – 1995).  Both lived long prosperous lives and saw their great grandchildren born.  With the blessing of videotape, I can still see them and hear them whenever I want. Grandma Vera was a daily diary writer and I still love to pick them up and read what she had recorded each day.  I hear her voice reading it when I see her handwriting.  She lives on through her writing. I hope to do that someday also.

Jessie Smith Yess  (1899-1990)

Jessie Smith Yess
(1899-1990)

John Yess (1896-1985)

John Yess (1896-1985)

These pictures are of my maternal grandparents Jessie Smith Yess and John Yess.  These youthful pictures of them remind me they once were young and just beginning their lives.  My grandmother had been a schoolteacher and quite frequently wrote down quotes or poems she liked.  We still have many letters and poems Grandma Jessie wrote.

Obituary of August Yess (1829-1905)

Obituary of August Yess (1829-1905)

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess  (1829-1905)

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910)
August Yess
(1829-1905)

The obituary at the left is of the man pictured on the right.  August Yess is my 2nd great grandfather and a German immigrant.  He became prosperous after immigrating to the United States and owned a lot of land in Peoria County, Illinois. The picture of August and Theresa Yess, as well as the obituary of August Yess, gives immortality to them also.

Immortality as defined by Websters dictionary, means “unending life”.  Pictures, stories, documents catalogued bring unending life to our ancestors and thus immortality.  It’s vital to honor our friends, relatives and ancestors by recording their names with photos.  We honor them when we repeat their names, when we tell their stories, when we remember them. They live long.