Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sibling Saturday: Name That Child

I was digging around in a client’s tree last week, and I came across a couple who were very creative in naming their children.  When I come across one unusual name it amuses me, but when I come across a handful, that’s even better.

John Brittain was born in 1796 in South Carolina.  He took Sarah Lindsey as his bride in 1825, when he was twenty-seven and she was just seventeen.  Over the next 30 years they had at least twelve children, most of whom lived to adulthood and beyond.  Findagrave was a wealth of information on the children and their families, most of whom spent their entire lives in Indiana.

First was William Brittain, born in 1826, named after his paternal grandfather, nothing fancy there.  But then things got more creative. 

Jamima America Brittain was born in 1828.  She went by “America” so she must not have minded her unusual name.  She had nine children, all with quite typical names.

John Columbus Brittain – Named after his father John and Christopher Columbus, perhaps?  John named his son born in 1861 “Abraham” and his son born in 1865 “Ulysses,” perhaps after the Civil War heroes of the North.  (This was Indiana, after all.)

Mary Indiana Brittain went by “Indiana” all her life—her tombstone even gives that name.  So being named after the state of her birth must not have bothered her too much.  (I’m glad my parents didn’t name me “Illinois”!)  Her eight children all had common names.

Virginia Brittain – another state name.  Her mother’s parents came from Virginia, so perhaps that’s the connection.  She named one of her sons “Washington,” but the other seven children have more typical names.

Marquis (Marion) Lafayette Brittain – I wonder what caused John and Sarah to name their child after this famous French aristocrat and military officer who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War?  Was it because the war hero had died two years earlier, in 1834?  At any rate, this Lafayette had eleven children with two wives, and although some of the girls had unusual first names (Phelda, Lola, Orpha), none of the names had political or geographical overtones.

Leah Frances and Sarah Catherine Brittain came next.  Both had ordinary names and as far as I could tell, ordinary lives.  I think Sarah might have died young, possibly after having daughters named Dora and Flora, but the records aren’t clear.

Theodore Hyson Brittain was a Civil War veteran.  His seven children had fairly typical names.  The youngest was a daughter named “Tillie Belle,” which I think is very cute.

Sidney Smith Brittain was married twice.  He and his second wife (pictured here) named their sons Simon Sidney, Orville Lee, and Orbra Ivan, and their daughters were named Bessie, Eutha, Lura, and Lenore.  Perhaps these were popular children’s names in Oklahoma, where they lived.

Taylor Adolphus Brittain had the dubious distinction of dying of scurvy at a time when that was rare.  He was unemployed at age 52 in the 1900 census; perhaps he was already sick.

Queen Victoria Brittain – What a name!  She was born in 1851, at the height of the reign of England’s queen (pictured)—before her beloved Prince Albert had died and turned her into a perpetual mourner.  Our Victoria had nine children, according to the 1900 census, but only two survived—daughters Artemesia and Estie May.  One son was named Algain.

Lovina Brittain died at age 24, perhaps in childbirth.  No children are recorded.

I love finding a collection of names like this, all in one family!  What's your favorite name in your family tree?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Black Sheep Sunday: The Greedy Priest


Well, now—it seems that my latest client is not the only one with a black sheep in the family!   After I posted “Inlaws and Outlaws” recently, blog reader Arlene sent in the story of her great-uncle, a priest who apparently didn’t take a vow of poverty.

Father Peter Gaborski (name changed to protect a certain elderly relative who might have a stroke if she knew about this) was a priest in a Lithuanian Catholic church in Chicago, Illinois.  The story opens in 1935, when an elderly man within Father Peter’s sphere of influence died.  The elderly man lived in a local flophouse—but as it turned out, he was no pauper.  He had sixteen bank accounts initially estimated at upwards of $90,000—which in today’s dollars would be equal to something like $1.5 million.  Later estimates more than doubled that number.

The man had a shady past, and according to a newspaper account (Alton Evening Telegraph, 3-7-1935), “Although he possessed a fortune, the ex-convict, James Thomas Kelly, 62, preferred to live in a west side flophouse at 25 cents a day.”  The proprietor of the flophouse, a Mrs. Butnam, figured out that her tenant was not the pauper he appeared to be.  She moved him from his 25-cent room (a price he had negotiated down from 35 cents) to her own home after she discovered that he was wealthy.  She then teamed up with an attorney and several others to draft a phony will.  In it, Mrs. Butnam became Mr. Kelly’s common-law wife, to whom he left nearly all his considerable worldly goods. 

Witnesses were needed—and that’s where Father Peter comes into the picture. The article goes on to say that there were two “witnesses” to the phony will—“Peter Gaborski, 48, who described himself as a priest and is a painter by profession, and John Dallyde, 54. The witnesses, police said, confessed participation in the plot, admitting that they signed the purported will after the death of Kelly.  They were to receive $100 each for their signatures.”

The undertaker also got in on the action, apparently to make sure his bill (an inflated $4,500 for a $98 coffin) was paid…  Altogether six people conspired to relieve Mr. Kelly of his estate.  But the forgery must not have been a good one; as the will worked its way through probate court, suspicion of foul play was strong enough that poor Mr. Kelly’s body was exhumed!  The Decatur Herald (3-9-1935) says that “Dr. Jerome Kearns, who examined the exhumed body, reported that Kelly did not die of cancer as the death certificate stated, but further examination will be necessary to establish the death cause.”  I’m not sure what came of that—but another article (Decatur Herald, 3-11-1935) said that Mr. Kelly—known in various newspaper headlines as the “Mysterious Miser,” the “Wealthy Hobo”, and the “Flophouse Midas of Madison Street”—was not the first lodger to die suspiciously under Mrs. Butnam’s care, and that toxicology tests were being run to see if Mr. Kelly had poison in his system.

Other beneficiaries included the attorney who drafted the will, who was to receive 6% of the estate, and the undertaker’s assistant, who was left 4%.  So, let’s review:  The landlady, the attorney, the undertaker, and the undertaker’s assistant, all beneficiaries of this man’s will…  Imagine that not raising red flags to a probate judge!

The two witnesses were the first to crack and confess to police, and after that, the plot unraveled quickly.  By May of 1935, all six were convicted on forgery and conspiracy charges.  According to the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger (5-9-1935), the landlady, the attorney, the undertaker, the undertaker’s assistant, and the two witnesses to the phony will each received a sentence of one year in jail.

So here’s hoping that Father Peter learned his lesson…  I’m guessing he did a lot more painting, and a lot less preaching, after this affair. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Black Sheep Sunday: Inlaws and Outlaws

I’ve been working on a project lately, for my first client from the great state of Alaska.  No ancestry binder for this client—it’s all being done online—just growin’ an online tree. 

And I am telling you, this tree is a gold mine!  I have never seen a tree so rich with information…  His ancestors were in the United States so far back in time, on so many branches of his tree, that researching it is like Ancestry Disneyland!  One of my favorite finds has been his Aunt Maggie and Uncle John.

I was tracing a line on his maternal side and came a across a great-great-grandfather who has my favorite name in this tree—Willis Woody Corn.  Willis and his wife had a number of children, including Mary Elizabeth, my client’s great-grandmother.  But Mary Elizabeth had a sister—Maggie—with an interesting story. 

Maggie was born May 15, 1885 in Kerrville, Texas, the seventh of ten children of Willis Woody Corn and Susannah Covey Corn.  The 1900 census tells us that by the time she was fifteen, the family had moved to Bonito, New Mexico (now under 75 feet of water because of the Bonito Canyon Dam), where her daddy was a farmer.

Somewhere around this time, she met John Franklin Greer.  According to a biography by C.W. Barnum on, John had just come from Pecos, Texas, tarrying there after his family moved to New Mexico to close up his father’s hardware store.  He also kept busy working on his gambling skills—which became his chosen career path.

John left Pecos in a hurry after a gambling dispute led to gunfire.  Two angry card players followed him from Texas towards New Mexico Territory, but he ambushed and killed them both along the way.  He arrived in Bonito soon afterwards, and began a life of gambling in the boom towns in the area.  Somehow he and Maggie met.

Maggie was married to John at the tender age of sixteen, in January 1902.  Ten months later she had the first of their six children—four daughters and then two sons over the next eight years.  Perhaps life was reasonably quiet for those years, although I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

After some trouble that resulted in a shootout in the spring of 1910, John headed for El Paso, Texas, where he graduated to robbing trains with his brothers and his friend John Gates, who were known as the Greer Gang.  He hid out in Mexico for a while (even joining the Mexican Army of Revolution).  Eventually he ended up back in New Mexico, where he resumed his career of robbing trains.  But when he walked into the jail in Deming where his friend John Gates was being held, stuck a gun Sheriff Dwight Stephens’ face, and freed his friend, the end was near.  Sheriff Stephens formed a posse and a week later, he cornered the Greer Gang in a steep canyon called Sandy Draw.  John walked out and pretended to surrender, then shot both his pistols from the hip, killing two deputies.  Moments later he was dead in a hail of gunfire at age 30.  The inscription on his grave says “beloved son.”  Was he also a “beloved husband and father”?

From what I can see, Maggie didn’t remarry for twenty years.  Why was that?  Was she grieving for her husband?  Was she afraid of getting her heart broken again?  Or was she just fed up with men?  At any rate, in 1932 she and Clyde Lee Thompson were married in Hurley, New Mexico.

Clyde passed away in 1940.  Maggie died in 1945 and is buried next to him at Memory Lane Cemetery in Silver City, New Mexico.

Photos:, stevenloeffler on findagrave, and myra0014 on findagrave.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Workday Wednesday: H.E. Bucklen - Medicine Man, Real Estate Tycoon, Baseball Fan

On my other blog (My Amish Indiana), I was researching a Walldogs mural in Shipshewana, Indiana entitled "Shipshewana Indians," and in the process I ended up also writing a piece about a man whose story just had to be told:  Herbert Elijah Bucklen Sr. - Medicine Man, Real Estate Tycoon, and Baseball fan.  Read his story here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Those Places Thursday: The Farm That Became a Church

Recently I’ve been doing some research on the Erickson side of my family tree, working with my cousin Gene.  We’ve found some good stories, including a real “black sheep” of a great-great-grandfather who I’ll write about soon.  But today, the story of my great-grandfather Karl Erickson’s farm, and how it became a church.

Karl (a/k/a Charlie) Erickson came to America from Mecklenburg, Germany with his parents, Johann and Caroline, and his brother Johann Jr., when he was nine years old—that would have been 1868.  The family settled in Will County, Illinois, where his mother soon died and his father Johann Sr. made a living as a farmer (although not a very good one), and later as a laborer.   

Karl and his brother left home (or were turned out of the house, some stories say) to make their way through the world in their mid-teens, and both brothers managed to do so.  By the 1880 census, Karl (by then known as Charlie) was a farm laborer on the farm of John Leppert, where a young lady named Lena Schmidt worked as housekeeper.  Carl and Lena married later that year and settled down to farm on rented land in Wheatland Township, Will County, Illinois.  Eventually they had ten children, nine of whom survived. 

Some years later (1903 to be exact) they bought their own farm, 160 acres in Will County which lay on both sides of Boughton Road in what is now Bolingbrook, Illinois.  They lived and farmed there until they retired around 1920 and “bought a house in town” (that town being Naperville).

But it’s the story of what happened to their Boughton Road farm sixty years later that is my main theme today. 

In the 1980s, a young congregation called Independent Baptist Church was looking for a property.  They purchased 18 acres of the old Erickson farm on the north side of Boughton Road—and instead of tearing down the 120-year-old barn, they remodeled it into a wonderful “barn church” in 1985, putting nearly 10,000 man-hours of volunteer labor into the remodeling.  The pastor of the church, David Shoaf, provided me with these old photos of the barn church—with the silo still standing proud.

about 1985

But the barn church didn’t last long...  On March 17, 1989 an arsonist burned the building to the ground.  Suspicion fell on a land developer who wanted the property to expand one of his projects, but nothing was ever proven.

Down but not out, the church rallied and built a new colonial-style church building on the site of the old barn.  Today they continue to meet and thrive at their church building on the old Erickson farm, 380 West Boughton Road in Bolingbrook.

One further note:
The old farmhouse, built in two sections (the older and plainer section visible on the right side, the newer and fancier section on the left) still stands on the church property.  The first photo below shows my great-grandparents, Karl and Lena Erickson, with four of their children, around 1910.  The second photo show the house in more modern times, nearly 100 years later—still standing.

Photos courtesy of Pastor David Shoaf and Independent Baptist Church of Bolingbrook, Illinois (  Old farmhouse photo courtesy of Gene Erickson.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Client Testimonial

I got this email from a recent client - it made my day!...

"My husband got the big surprise present on his birthday. He absolutely loves it. You’ve done such a marvelous job! There is so much information for him to process but each page gives him such thrills! He was impressed with those old records counting each animal they owned, where they lived and how much property they owned, those newspaper articles of mishaps etc. He got a real kick out of the “original” American ancestor having had a brewery. We will surely visit some of those places when we visit the area next time."

A photo I found online for the client's tree

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Census Sunday: Liz, Arthur, and Amy

My mom once sat down and told me about her mother and father’s siblings, and most of it wasn’t pretty!  I wrote down what she said about each one, and lately, I’ve been trying to sort out fact from fancy. 

My grandfather, Robert Johann Erickson, had five sisters, and one was named Mary Elizabeth (pictured)—but she was always called “Liz.”  Two of Liz’ sisters died of tuberculosis—I’ve written about them previously.  Here is what my mother said about her Aunt Liz:
“Liz had seven children and died in childbirth with the seventh. Their ages ranged from 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, down to the baby. My grandmother (Liz’ mother) raised the baby. The father hired a neighbor girl, 18 years old, to be housekeeper, and a year later she married him. They had four children, making 11 in all. He was kind of lazy...”
I’ll never know about the “lazy” part, but I wanted to find out more about this great-aunt and uncle that I never met.  Besides that, when someone dies young, there’s often a story there.

Mary Elizabeth Erickson was born in 1884, the second of nine surviving children of Charlie and Lena Schmidt Erickson.  Liz, as she was called, married Arthur Stafford in March 1901, when she was just sixteen years old.  They had their first child, Mabel, a few months later—and more children came along in 1903, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910, and 1913.

The 1910 census shows Arthur and Mary living on a farm in Will County, Illinois, next door to Arthur’s parents.  They had five children by then, and a sixth on the way.  But Liz’ luck ran out with child number seven…  Records on show that baby Earl was born on the 29th of January,1913 and Liz died a week later, on the 6th of February.  She was buried at Alexander Cemetery in Romeoville.

But what was Arthur to do?  The census records back up my mother’s assertion that the baby was raised by his grandparents.  The 1920 census shows young Earl Stafford living with Charlie and Lena Erickson.  He was still there for 1930 census, when he was seventeen.

It is very possible that Arthur brought in a young unmarried neighbor girl to help with the children and the housework—that would have been very common.  And when I checked the 1910 census, Arthur and his family live in the same census district in DuPage Township as 12-year-old Amy Shepherd and her parents.  By 1913, Amy would have been old enough to be “hired out”—and we know that she was Arthur’s wife probably by 1916, when their first child was born.

The 1920 census shows Arthur (age 39) living with new wife Amy (age 23).   They already have three young children (the oldest is three), and five of Arthur’s children live with them.  Arthur’s oldest child, Mabel, is only five years younger than her stepmother, and Mabel’s occupation is listed as “servant—at home.”  I can only imagine how dreary poor Mabel’s life was.  (Later census records show that within the year, young Mabel had ‘escaped’ her home via marriage—but by the 1930 census, she had five children of her own!)

The 1930 census shows Arthur (50) and Amy (32) living with two of his children and four of theirs.  So Arthur did indeed have eleven children.

Arthur outlived his young wife by eleven years.  They were buried together at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Joliet.

So, my mom was right about the seven children, the death in childbirth, the baby being raised by grandparents, the young second wife, and the four additional children…  But I’ll never know about the “lazy” part.