Elsie, Dear, and the Oliver Girls


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The caption in the album reads “Bobby and Aunt Elsie having a grand time!” Taken in 1936

Another Women’s History Month has arrived and I can’t resist starting with this joyful photo of my Granny, Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993) with her nephew, Robert “Bobby” Hugh Oliver, Jr. (1930-1976). I can hear her laughing. This is an expression I remember well. And of course she’s holding Bobby’s dog, Snooky. Of course she is.

This is one of several photographs taken during the summer of 1936, presumably at the Landsdowne, Pennsylvania home of my grandfather’s brother and sister-in-law, Hugh and Claire (Loughney) Oliver. My grandparents, mother and her siblings were living in Beirut, Lebanon at the time, with three children between the ages of four and ten, so it was surprising to find my grandmother there without the rest of the family. But there she is with her mother, Mary (Hill) Mills. Elsie must have come from Beirut to visit her mother.

Elsie (Mills) Oliver and her mother, Mary (Hill) Mills

Mary Mills (known to her family as “Dear”) was 60 when this photograph was taken. She had been widowed a little more than ten years. After a lifetime in Baltimore, Dear was living in an apartment in Queens, New York not far from her son Jimmy Mills. This visit from Elsie was to be their last. Mary Mills died in Queens just a year later.

The third image is of the three sisters-in-law, presumably gathered for the visit from Elsie and Mary: Dorothy (Kay) Oliver, who was married to A. Douglas Oliver; Elsie, married to my grandfather, Kenneth Oliver; and Claire, married to Robert Hugh Oliver.

I had a delightful lunch last week with Mary Lee, who inherited this album that had belonged to her great aunt, Claire (Loughney) Oliver, wife of my great uncle, Hugh Oliver. I wrote here about Mary Lee’s and my first encounter over family photos, and am beyond thrilled that we got to meet (so much fun!) and look at photos together. More to come from this album, but today is for remembering Granny’s peals of laughter, her mother Dear, and “the Oliver Girls” in honor of Women’s History Month.

Thank you again to Mary Lee Witaconis for sharing these glimpses of the extended Oliver family.

Saying their names: James, Catharine, Lett, Irena and more (Updated)

New information means more names to remember of those who were enslaved by Frederick and Sarah (Elston) Goss. A Black History Month remembrance.

Generations of Nomads

I’ve just found the will of my 5th great grandfather, Frederick Goss (1766-1833) and the estate inventory of his widow, Sarah (Elston) Goss (1772-1837) in Davidson County, North Carolina. Frederick’s 1833 will includes the following:

“I give & bequeath unto my beloved wife Sarah my negro slaves namely James Catharine & Lett, to her use and benefit during her life time & then the said James & Catherine [no mention of Lett] to be sold by my executors and their proceeds to be divided among my lawful heirs.”

The inventory of Sarah’s estate includes “A list of the sale of the property of Sarah Goss deceased sold the 9th day of June 1837.”

Interspersed between the sale prices of such items as “one stone jug 30 cents,” “candlemold and scissors 5 cents,” and “1 side saddle 9 dollars and 50 cents,” the list also includes:

James a negro boy purchased…

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Remembrances of Celia, Grandma, Lela, Mum (1932-2022)


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NOTE: I made these remarks at the Celebration of Life for my mother, Celia Oliver, on December 5, 2022. We miss her.

I’ve collected an assortment of descriptions of Mum this week—mine and from others—and it’s been interesting to hear how we saw her: loving, funny, resilient, irreverent, distractable, silly, opinionated, complicated, joyful, effortlessly cool, interested, elegant.

Mum was most definitely all of those things, but the qualities that feel most central to me are the joy she took in things large and small around her; her ability to find the funny and silly moments; her resilience through life’s challenges; and above all else, her fierce love for her family.

Mum knew how to find joy and how to create it. She found it in tiny jam jars, cheerful colors, cozy sweaters, and apricot scones. She found it in gardening and in a long succession of dogs and cats too numerous to count. She found it every time she looked out a window, walked down a street or rode in a car. “Look at that…[fill in the blank]!! It’s so cute!”

A recent friend of Mum’s at the Bertram House captured it perfectly, calling it her “childlike sense of wonder.” She was amused and amazed by the large and the small details of her world. “Cute” was her adjective of choice, and it was used kind of randomly to admire everything from the passing 18-wheeler with a yellow stripe, to a ladybug, and once to our great confusion, to the coal barge in Salem Harbor.

A sense of adventure was part of this. After spending her childhood in Lebanon, Jerusalem, Cairo, and her early married years in Alaska and Germany, Mum had a love of travel. When I was 6, Mum (a single mother, widowed 2 years earlier) announced that we were going to go to Paris the following summer. We would sail over on the S.S. France and rent a flat for the summer…if I learned French. I remember the language instruction records vividly, but don’t remember becoming fluent and somehow we never went… It was decades before I realized the pleasure she got in the planning, even when the adventure itself didn’t materialize. This was true of her plan to move to New Zealand for a year, (our mail carrier was quite confused by the daily delivery of the New Zealand Herald one year); the plan to join the Peace Corps when I left for college, and the houseboat on the inland waterway (never mind that she and Walt knew nothing whatsoever about boats).

I learned early from Mum that laughter was a gift that could make anything better. As a pre-teen I spent a lot of time in and out of hospital for back surgery and scoliosis treatment. I wore bulky body casts or a back brace during that especially self-conscious age of 11 to 14. One of Mum’s greatest gifts to me during that time was to make a game of staring back at the kids who stared at me in my unwieldy armor. And laughing at ourselves. During those years I remember her offering  constant good cheer and loving support in a way that left no room to feel sorry for myself.

As Mum’s memory declined during the past few years, she continued to be able to laugh at the absurdity of the world and at her own decline. We laughed a lot during these past few months and that was a balm to both of us.

And then there was her resilience. Mum’s complicated life included many upheavals and losses that shaped her. Boarding school starting at age 8, wartime, emigrating to the U.S. and leaving beloved grandparents behind in Lebanon, more boarding school. She was widowed before she was 30. There were more moves, remarriage, a divorce. Life brings us all challenges. She struggled. I know she did. And yet, she created a life where she found joy and humor and a good portion of contentment.

When the time came to move from the little condo she loved on Kosciusko Street to the Bertram House, that resilience came through loud and clear. Mum, who loved her “quiet little life” and valued her privacy, made the adjustment to assisted living with enthusiasm (mostly). She opened herself to new people and created a little community of dear friends among the loving staff there. She embraced them and they returned her enthusiasm in the best possible ways. We’re so grateful for the time she had there and the love she shared during recent difficult months.

When I asked Will and Abby what the first words were that came to mind to describe Grandma, they both said loving first of all. So did I. Mum’s love was fierce. It was absolute. It was sometimes exhausting. It was joyful and funny and resilient. And it runs through all of us. She adored her family, each of us in our own way. She loved babies and dogs (not necessarily always in that order) and loved nothing more than being a grandmother and great grandmother.

That circle of life business worked its magic in our family this year. Lily’s birth in April brought incredible happiness to all of us. Mum’s delight in her, right up until the last days of her life, was a joy to behold.

Mum, we miss you already, but I’m hoping you’re settled on that cloud you always told me about, dangling your toes with Daddy, Damdaddy and Granny, Peter, and all the other special people. We love you.

Unexpected Oliver Photos: Serendipity, Paying Attention, and Gratitude


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In family history research, and in life in general, I’ve always believed in the magic of serendipity aided by a good helping of paying attention. And always gratitude.

Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), my great grandmother

When Ancestry started waving its little green hint leaves at me about my mother’s first cousin, Bobby Oliver, I took a peek at a recommended tree and smiled to find a few photos of him. I remembered meeting Bobby once at my grandparents’ when I was a child. He was about my mother’s age and died in his forties.

Bobby Oliver (Robert Hugh Oliver, Jr. 1930-1976). Taken late 1940s?

As I explored the tree, I realized that it belonged to a relative of Bobby’s mother, a connection by marriage, and not a direct relative of mine. And yet…my attention was caught by the photo of a lady in round spectacles and a white-haired wig attached to the tree. It was my great grandmother, Emily (Wright) Oliver, but it was listed as someone else! Someone I wasn’t related to! I know this particular photo well. I have a copy of it. And the very Victorian brooch she’s wearing is in my jewelry box. It was definitely Emily and most definitely not this Anna person.

Misattributed portraits come up often on Ancestry trees. Oh, look! Ancestry waved it’s little hint leaf at me! Somebody posted a photo of great, great aunt Mary Sue! I’ll add it to my tree! And once a mistake is made, it can spread like wildfire. If dozens of other people have that photo in their family tree and they all say it’s Mary Sue, then it must be true. Ack!

But before harumphing too much about Emily being mislabeled as Anna, I wrote the person in whose tree I’d found it. To thank her for the wonderful pictures of Bobby. What a pleasure to find them! And, by the way, about that photo you’ve labeled as Anna…

As usual, courtesy (and persistence) is the best approach. It took two messages (not everyone checks Ancestry as obsessively often as I do), but when I heard back from Mary happy things followed. She corrected the misidentification. We shared family info relating to Bobby, who was also her mother’s first cousin. And, best of all, she had a family album with more pictures of my side of the family. Wonderful pictures of my grandfather and his brothers as children, of my great grandparents. I’m thrilled and grateful. And it turns out that Mary’s son lives in the same Pennsylvania town my daughter and her family just moved to. We’re going to meet up sometime and look at pictures together. Hooray!

So when the serendipity gods drop something into your lap, be sure you’re paying attention, and don’t forget to say a heartfelt thank you.


Daniel (1870-1952) and Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), my great grandparents

Kenneth Stuart Oliver (1898-1975) my grandfather

Alan Douglas (Doug) Oliver (1896-1983) Daniel and Emily’s son, my great uncle

Robert Hugh Henderson (Hugh) Oliver (1903-1979) Daniel and Emily’s son, Bobby’s father, my great uncle

Robert Hugh (Bobby) Oliver, Jr. (1930-1976) Hugh’s son, my first cousin once removed

Special thanks to Mary Witaconis for the use of these photographs. They make me happy.

A participant in the 7th Annual Genealogy Blog Party Potluck Picnic.

Saying their names: James, Catharine, Lett, Irena and more


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I’ve just found the will of my 5th great grandfather, Frederick Goss (1766-1833) and the estate inventory of his widow, Sarah (Elston) Goss (1772-1837) in Davidson County, North Carolina. Frederick’s 1833 will includes the following:

“I give & bequeath unto my beloved wife Sarah my negro slaves namely James Catharine & Lett, to her use and benefit during her life time & then the said James & Catherine [no mention of Lett] to be sold by my executors and their proceeds to be divided among my lawful heirs.”

The inventory of Sarah’s estate includes “A list of the sale of the property of Sarah Goss deceased sold the 9th day of June 1837.”

Interspersed between the sale prices of such items as “one stone jug 30 cents,” “candlemold and scissors 5 cents,” and “1 side saddle 9 dollars and 50 cents,” the list also includes:

James a negro boy purchased for $601 by James Lee. (Lee also bought one “coverlid,” two quilts, one “needleworked counterpin,” and one “bed cord” for a total of $8.33.)

Catharine a negro girl purchased for $402 by Julian Leach.

Irena a negro girl purchased for $300.25 by William Harris.

The 1830 Census lists Goss enslaving 12 people: one boy under age 10, two male youths between 10 and 23, one young man between 24 and 35, and one man between 36 and 54. There were also four girls under age 10, two girls/young women between 10 and 24, and one woman between 36 and 54. Which of these twelve were the four individuals listed in the estate documents? And what happened to the others?

I wish I knew James, Catharine, Lett and Irena’s ages. What were their relationships to each other? I don’t know if Lett (listed in Frederick’s will) is the same person as Irena in Sarah’s estate inventory. The three enslavers who purchased these three people at the sale aren’t names I recognize from my family research and I don’t know if they were local. Did these four people remain in the area or were they uprooted and sent far away? So many unanswered questions, but I hope this little bit of information is helpful to someone.

I have many ancestors who were enslavers. Most were on my maternal grandmother’s side, but some, like Frederick and Sarah Goss, were ancestors of my paternal grandmother, and at least one was an on my paternal grandfather’s side. It’s a daunting task, but this post is a very small first step to share information on the souls who were held in bondage by my ancestors. There will be more.

Updating this February 4, 2023 to add the names of additional people listed in Frederick Goss’s probate records as having been sold at an estate sale on 11 and 12 December, 1833.

From the list, I am remembering:

Robert, 1 negro boy, was sold for $570 to Samuel Mitchel.

Levy, 1 negro boy, was sold for $580 to Samuel Mitchel.

Dick, 1 negro man, was sold for $152.50 to William Wadsworth.

Carline, 1 negro girl, was sold for $420 to Samuel Mitchel.

Eliza, 1 negro girl, was sold for $326 to Allen E. Goss. (Allen Elston Goss was the son of Frederick and Sarah (Elston) Goss).

Irena (Serena), 1 negro girl, was sold for $134 to Sarah Goss, widow (of Frederick Goss). Irena is listed above, having been sold again in Sarah’s 1837 estate sale, this time for $300.25 to William Harris.

Ruth and 2 children were sold for $515 to Joshua Lee.

Mary, 1 negro girl, was sold for $166 to Allen Goss.

Rachel, 1 negro girl, was sold for $92 to John Lee.

So many people.

I have found some information on Allen E. Goss. Born about 1812, Allen was about 21 years old when he purchased Eliza and Mary from his father Frederick’s estate in 1833. By the 1840 Census, Allen was living with his wife and four children in Gasconade, Missouri. There were no slaves listed in his household.


Wills (Davidson County, North Carolina), 1823-1969; Index to Wills, 1823-1955; p. 239. Author: North Carolina. Superior Court (Davidson County); Probate Place: Davidson, North Carolina

Wills and Estate Papers (Davidson County), 1663-1978; Author: North Carolina. Division of Archives and History (Raleigh, North Carolina); Probate Place: Davidson, North Carolina

Ancestry.com. 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Year: 1840; Census Place: Gasconade, Missouri; Roll: 223; Page: 298; Family History Library Film: 0014855


Frederick (1766-1833) and Sarah (Elston) Goss (1772-1837) 5th great grandparents and Allen Elston Goss (abt 1812-1872) 4th great grand uncle

Fernita “Neatty” (Goss) Bodenhamer (1795-1863) 4th great grandmother

John Bodenhamer (about 1837-1863?) 3rd great grandfather

Clementine “Clemmie” Esther (Bodenhamer) Owen (1854-1925) 2nd great grandmother

Stella Lee (Owen) Miller (1881-1942) great grandmother

Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare (1914-1975) grandmother

William Edward Stephenson Hare (1933-1961) father


Dogs and More Dogs


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My devout Granny always said she wasn’t interested in heaven unless her dogs would be there. I feel the same way about family history. It’s not complete without the ancestral dogs. I come from a long line of dog people. In the great nature versus nurture debate, I’m not sure where the trait for being an obsessed dog lover comes in, but I believe I got it from both sides. It’s considered normal in my family to stop the car to get out, cross oncoming traffic and introduce oneself to a random dog (or at least to fight the urge). So here’s a quick chronicle of some of the beloved canines.

Mum, about 1948, with Tess. The story goes that her older brother looked at the photo and said, “Beauty and the Beast. But which one is which?”

As a teenager, my mother had a formal portrait taken with Tess, the family boxer (thank you, cousin Diana, for unearthing it!). My grandmother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver, adored her grandfather, Nicholas Snowden Hill, in part because of the time he arrived and told the grandchildren to choose between the two deep pockets of his overcoat, only to find that there was a puppy in each pocket. He also made her a gift of Mars, the circus pony she admired.

Mum’s paternal grandparents, Daniel and Emily Oliver, ran an orphanage and school in Ras el Met’n, in the mountains outside Beirut. Daniel always had several dogs, and the annual large group photographs of the students, faculty and staff, all feature him, front and center, with a couple of dogs at his feet. My mother would add that she remembers him being harsh with the dogs, but he certainly appeared attentive in the photos, often looking fondly at the dogs and not the camera.

My Oliver grandparents had many beloved dogs living in Beirut when Mum was a child. I remember tales of Alsatians, (as they were known to them, German Shepherds to us in the U.S.)–Lorna, Ronnie, Topsy. More on their adventures in another post. Later there were boxers, starting with Pronto. And when my grandparents settled in New England there were came Tess and my childhood friends, Judy, Penny, and Jenny.

Judy and me, 1958.

My fourth birthday present was Jeff, a handsome Great Dane, and a great delight to my dad. Family lore is that I was harassing Jeff one day, when my mother heard me shriek. She came running, only to find that Jeff–so much bigger than I was–had gently pinned me to the wall, head on one side of me and tail on the other. He’d had enough! We lived in an apartment in Baltimore near a reservoir. My parents had a VW beetle and exercised Jeff by holding his leash out the car window and slowly driving the loop road around the reservoir. He must have been quite a sight.

Jeff and me, 1961.

I know less about the dogs on my paternal side, but Bill Stephenson, my paternal grandfather, had a series of beloved dachshunds and shelties–Bosco, Princess, Oscar–and was very clear that he liked them better than most people.

And no history of the family dogs would be complete without the dogs we raised our own children with: Sadie (1997-2009), Cosby (2007-2014), Daisy (2015-2020), and now Ellie (born 2018).

Now we’re blessed with the next dog generation. Our angelic granddog, Coco, who lives in a Hawaiian paradise where she gets to hang out at the beach with her parents and littermates. The dog love continues.

Nope. I have no idea which one is our Coco. But aren’t they gorgeous? Oahu, 2020.

This post is a participant in The Genealogy Blog Party: Celebrating Family History Month.

Yours Vivaciously, Homer Sheeley


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Homer Sheeley (1841-1898? 1911? 1928?)
From the Thomas S. Orr Photo Album

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The well known Mark Twain quote seems very apt when it comes to the death of my great great grandfather, Homer Sheeley. I know quite a bit about his life, but confirming his death has been a challenge. Finally last week I confirmed when he did NOT die.

Homer Sheeley, born in Ohio in 1841, was the second of nine children born to John/Jehu Scott and Jane Caldwell (Tidball) Sheeley. At age 19, the 1860 census listed Homer and his elder brother Virgil as carpenters, and their father as a cabinet maker. By 1863 Homer was employed as a teacher, according to his Civil War draft registration.

His Civil War military service began late in the war and lasted only a few months. Homer enlisted as a corporal in Company C of the Ohio 81st Infantry Regiment on February 20, 1865. He was mustered out on May 16th and his rank was reduced to private on June 19, 1865. There must be a story there.

Following the war, Homer attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Between 1870 and 1873 he attended Danville Theological Seminary, Danville, Kentucky and Union Theological Seminary, New York. Like his brothers Virgil and Brownhill Tidball Sheeley, Homer became a Presbyterian minister.

Homer and Rebecca Conkling (1845-1894) were married in 1876. Rebecca had attended Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio, (eventually merged with his alma mater, Miami University), where she was a close friend and classmate of Homer’s sister, Maria (Sheeley) Andrews (1843-1937). A family history written by another Sheeley sister, Margaretta Linn Sheeley, referred to Rebecca’s “long period of invalidism, ante-dating her marriage,” while other sources say she became an invalid following the birth of their only child, my great grandmother Alice (Sheeley) Stephenson.

Homer served as pastor in Presbyterian churches across eastern and southern Ohio and Indiana during a long career in the ministry. Daughter Alice was born in 1878 during their time in Lake County, Indiana. By 1885 Rebecca and Alice were living with Rebecca’s parents in Lyons, Kansas. I have found no indication that Homer and Rebecca ever lived together again, and Rebecca died in 1896. Alice remained in Lyons and was raised by her maternal grandparents and aunt, Hattie Conkling.

Then the information got interesting. Years ago I found this article. At first reading I thought it must be true. How could such a specific news story be wrong? (Yes, I was naive.)

Steubenville Herald-Star, Steubenville, Ohio. Friday, January 28, 1898, p. 5.

And yet, Homer appears in the 1900 Census, alive and well and living in Springfield, Ohio. And a July 22, 1924 article in the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal mentions a visit to him in Steubenville from his sister and brother-in-law. And, oh by the way, there was this gravestone with the rest of the Sheeley family in Fredericksburg, Ohio with a death date of 1928:

Find a Grave, (www.findagrave.com/memorial/147941370/homer-sheeley: accessed 25 May 2021), memorial page for Homer Sheeley, citing Fredericksburg East Side Cemetery, Fredericksburg, Wayne County, Ohio; maintained by Lois Revenaugh.

Just to make things more confusing, a published genealogy for the Sheeley family lists Homer’s death in 1911 and this source has been widely used in many a family tree on Ancestry and elsewhere. My best explanation is that at the time Margaretta Sheeley wrote the family genealogy in 1911, Homer was still alive. A death date “after 1911” could have turned into a 1911 death by mistake.

Then came the fun part! During a stroll through www.newspapers.com last week, I came across these two articles and both tickled me. Of course by then I’d long since realized the 1898 report of Homer’s death was an oops, but confirmation! Yay! And correct information with a smile and a nod to Mark Twain is even better.

Steubenville Herald-Star, Steubenville, Ohio. Tuesday, February 1, 1898, p. 5.
The Lyons Republican, Lyons, Kansas. Friday, February 11, 1898, p. 5. The publisher of the Lyons Republican was Homer’s brother-in-law.

I love the quirky items I find searching newspapers. I completely love that Homer signed his letter to the editor “Vivaciously Yours.” To find a bit of a sense of humor is a special treat–who knew? And the famous Mark Twain line about his own mis-reported death was first published in June 1897. Was Homer familiar with it and referring to it in his own response just a few months later?

I’m now confident that Homer Sheeley died in 1928, but I have many unanswered questions about Homer and his family. Did he and Rebecca separate because of her fragile health or was the story more complicated? Did he maintain a relationship with his only child, Alice? Did he meet his three grandsons, born between 1902 and 1911? And other than his gravestone, I still haven’t found a record of his death in 1928. Where is his obituary? The real one.

NOTE: Special thanks to Steven K. Orr, my 3rd cousin once removed through Homer Sheeley’s sister, Lovely Jane (Sheeley) Orr, for generously sharing Margaretta Linn Sheeley’s 27-page, handwritten “A Sheeley Genealogy.” Margaretta wrote the family history for Lovely, her youngest sister, on November 11, 1911, the 100th anniversary of their father John/Jehu Scott Sheeley’s birth. The photograph of Homer Sheeley is also from the Orr family’s collection.

Requiem for a Lipstick Plant (1975-2021)


Lipstick plant, 9 North Dod Hall, Princeton University, September 1978

I am a good mother to the humans and furry critters in my life, but when it comes to plants, it’s always been a different story. If they’re going to survive in my household, they’ve got to be tough, self-sufficient, and willing to be neglected. I’m reasonably reliable about watering, except when I’m not, and nobody gets fertilized or repotted. Ever. And yet there’s a small coterie of plants who have hung in there with me for decades. Which is why I’m a little heartbroken over the loss of my lipstick plant this week. Lipstick plant was the elder stateswoman of the group. The cause of death was a combination of neglect by me and excessive attention from the resident kitty.

As part of outfitting my freshman college room, in August 1975 my mum took me to a new plant shop where we chose three plants. Lipstick plant was the coolest, and hung in a place of honor in a macrame hanger (so 1975, right?) in my dorm room in Pyne Hall.

Lipstick plant has been with me ever since. She traveled from Connecticut to New Jersey and back again multiple times. She went with me to my first apartment in Gastonia, North Carolina and returned north when I got married and moved to Salem, Massachusetts. Under the same succession of roofs (twelve of them) we’ve progressed through college, two careers and a whole bunch of jobs. We’ve lived with my parents, six roommates, one boyfriend/eventual husband, two children, four dogs and four cats. We’ve rejoiced and grieved and done all the mundane things that happen over forty-six years of living. Forty-six years with the same darned plant!

I’d had this plant (why didn’t I ever give her a name–“this plant” seems cold now) for years before she ever bloomed, and it only happened a couple of times, but the blooming of a lipstick plant is an event. First she developed a deep red, waxy trumpet, which looked exotic enough to satisfy me. And then came the magic, as a bright red “lipstick” slowly emerged from the trumpet.

RIP, dear plant. I’m sorry I let you down, but I’m glad we shared this journey. I hope you bloom forever in the after life.

P.S. I’m completely unapologetic about acknowledging the life of a plant here on my family history blog. Just to be clear.

International Women’s Day: For My Daughter, For My Mother


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Dearest daughter mine and dearest mother mine, Happy belated International Women’s Day! When I think of extraordinary women, there you both are and as I collect images of the women we came from, it seems only right to put each of us right at the center. Maybe I’ll write more about them individually as this Women’s History Month goes on, but first I just want to gather their wonderful faces around us.

Look at these women. Their lives spanned four centuries. They were born on three continents. A few lived their entire lives close to their birthplaces, but most spent much of their lives in faraway new places like you both have. In all three centuries before your move to Hawai’i you had ancestral women uprooting and moving from one continent to another or across the United States. Elizabeth Goldsberry migrated as a child with her parents from North Carolina to western Missouri by wagon before 1850. When she was 45, Maria (Milnes) Mills and her husband James left Derby, England and moved to Virginia with nine children, ages 4 to 23. And Emily (Wright) Oliver joined her father on his Quaker mission work, traveling to Syria in the 1890s, where she stayed to teach at a Friends school, married Daniel, and spent the rest of her life as his partner and support in the Daniel and Emily Oliver Orphanage in Ras el Met’n, Lebanon. I’ve always loved that in a still patriarchal world, Emily was given equal billing in the naming of the school!

Abby (center) and the mothers: Top row center – Mom, Kim (Withers) Brengle, born in Germany; Top row left – paternal grandmother, Natalie (Munson) Brengle (1919-2009), born in Pennsylvania, died in Maryland; Top row right – maternal grandmother, Celia Oliver, born in Lebanon; 2nd row left – Natalie’s mother, Katharine (Townsend) Munson (1891-1970), born and died in Pennsylvania; 2nd row right – Celia’s mother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993), born in Maryland, died in Massachusetts; Bottom row left – Dad’s paternal grandmother, Katherine (Curtin) Brengle (1884-1952), born in Pennsylvania, died in Maine; Bottom row center – Katherine Munson’s mother, Elizabeth (Bispham) Townsend (1862-1947), born and died in Pennsylvania; Bottom row right – Mom’s paternal grandmother, Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare (1914-1975), born in Oklahoma, died in Missouri
Kim (center) and the paternal grandmothers: Clockwise from top row center – paternal grandmother, Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare (1914-1975), born in Oklahoma, died in Missouri; Esther Jane’s mother, Stella Lee (Owen) Miller (1881-1942), born in Missouri, died in Kansas; Stella’s mother, Esther Clementine (Bodenhamer) Owen (1854-1925), born in Missouri, died in Kansas; Esther Jane’s paternal grandmother, Amanda Jane (Hahn) Miller (1849-1942), born in Ohio, died in Missouri: Clemmie’s mother, Elizabeth Jane (Goldsberry) (Bodenhamer) Hamilton (1833-1888), born in North Carolina, died in Missouri; Esther Jane’s stepmother, Orpha (Litsey) (Carrington) Miller (1886-1975), born and died in Kansas; Esther Jane’s sister (my godmother), Marjorie (Miller) Willbern (1901-1987) born in Missouri, died in Kansas; my Dad’s paternal grandmother (and the only female ancestor I have an image of on that side of the family!), Alice Christine (Sheeley) Stephenson (1878-1958), born in Indiana, died in Kansas.
Celia (center) and her mothers: Top row center – Celia’s mother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993), born in Baltimore, died in Massachusetts; Top row left – paternal grandmother, Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), born in Yorkshire, England, died in Lebanon; Top row right – maternal grandmother, Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills (1876-1937), born in Maryland, died in New York; 2nd row left – Emily’s mother, Mary Ann (Deane) Wright (1841-1884), born in Surrey, England, died in England; 2nd row right – Elsie’s paternal grandmother, Maria (Milnes) Mills (1825-1892), born in Gloucestershire, England, died in Virginia; Bottom row right- Mary Carroll Mills’ paternal grandmother, Anne Elizabeth (Snowden) (Hall) Hill (1808-1857), born and died in Maryland; (These last two get complicated, but they’re the earliest images I’ve found!) Bottom row center – Ann Elizabeth Hill’s grandmother-in-law, Eleanor (Carroll) Brent (1737-1788), born in Maryland, died in Virgnia; Bottom row left- Last but not least, the earliest straight matrilineal ancestor I’ve identified. Catherine (Nuth) Johnson (1757-1811) was my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother or fifth great grandmother, born in London, died in Washington, DC.

There were talented painters on all sides–Katharine Brengle, Alice Stephenson, and Elsie Oliver. Your Quaker grandmothers, Emily Oliver and her mother Mary Ann Wright, were both teachers. Some came from lives of privilege made possible by slavery. Anne Elizabeth (Snowden) Hill and Eleanor (Carroll) Brent both came from wealthy families with many enslaved workers. (Something I’m working to learn more about). Catherine (Nuth) Johnson was President John Quincy Adams’s mother-in-law.

You know well that all families are complicated, and these women’s families were no exceptions. Some endured hardships, wars, losses of parents, husbands, children. There were divorces and health challenges. Some died quite young, but most lived long lives. I think of them as mothers and grandmothers. I picture them with their little people and know there was so much love and laughter. That comes to us from all sides, so keep loving and laughing! You’re both strong and wise, funny and smart, edgy and opinionated, stubborn as can be and full of love. All these mothers and grandmothers, greats and many, many greats shared those traits and must be so proud of you. I know I am.

This post is a participant in the Genealogy Blog Party


  • Portrait of Ann Elizabeth (Snowden) (Hall) Hill, Private Collection.
  • Portrait of Eleanor (Carroll) Brent, (Mrs. William Brent), oil on canvas by John Wollaston, ca. 1755-1756, Georgetown University Art Collection.
  • Portrait of Catherine (Nuth) Johnson, (Mrs. Joshua Johnson), oil on canvas by Edward Savage, 1796, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Foremothers Get the Vote


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The 19th Amendment, which gave many (but not all) women the right to vote in the United States was ratified 100 years ago today and this anniversary has me thinking of the women in my family who won the vote. Six of my direct ancestors were of voting age when women’s suffrage became legal in August 1920–one grandmother, three great grandmothers, and two great great grandmothers. As my ancestors always were, these women were scattered around the country. Two were in Maryland; one was in Missouri; and three were in Kansas.

Elsie Mills (1899-1993) – Elsie Mills (later Oliver) was my maternal grandmother. In August 1920, she was 21 years old and living in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the eldest child of James Mills, an English-born physician who taught at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and his wife, Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills (more on her below). Elsie was a budding painter, studying at the Maryland Institute of Art. They lived at 853 Park Avenue, Ward 11.

Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills (1876-1937) – Mary Mills (known as “Dear” to her family), my great grandmother, was 44 years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was born and raised in Baltimore City, and married her husband, James at the age of 23. In 1920, Dear and her family, Elsie (age 21), Audrey (age 17), Jimmy (age 15) and Mary Carroll (age 12), along with “Ma” Seaton, the 65 year old Irish cook, lived in a modest row house not far from the Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine, where James practiced and taught.

853 Park Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland

I don’t know when Elsie and her mother Mary may have actually first voted. There was a legal fight against allowing Maryland women to vote that was resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922. (Women won the vote!) But Maryland did not vote to ratify the 19th Amendment until 1941.

Alice Christine (Sheely) Stephenson (1878-1958) – When the 19th Amendment was ratified, my great grandmother, Alice, was 42 years old. She was born in Indiana, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and attended Western College and Seminary for Women in Oxford, Ohio before her 1899 marriage to R.W. (Richard) Stephenson. In 1920, she and R.W. lived at 250 Clark Street, Ward 4, Augusta, Kansas, with their three sons, Paul (age 17), William (my paternal grandfather, age 9), and Clark (age 8). She was a prolific water color painter.

Stella Lee (Owen) Miller (1881-1942) – Stella Miller, my great grandmother, was 39 in 1920. Born and raised on a farm in Webster County, Missouri, she had been married to her husband, Franklin Pierce Miller, a former school teacher and for 21 years. She had three living daughters at home–Marjorie (age 19), Thelma (age 16), and Esther Jane (my paternal grandmother, age 6) and had lost her third daughter, twelve-year-old Nellie, earlier that year. Stella’s mother, Clementine Esther (Bodenhamer) Owen (more below), was also living with the Millers in 1920. They lived at 112 West 2nd Street, Ward 2, Coffeyville, Kansas.

112 West 2nd Street, Coffeyville, Kansas

Clementine Esther (Bodenhamer) Owen (1854-1925) – In 1920, my great great grandmother Clemmie Owen was 66 years old. She was born in Marshfield, Missouri to parents who had both migrated there from North Carolina. Clemmie’s father appears to have abandoned his wife, Elizabeth and Clemmie when she was very young. Elizabeth remarried in 1860 and Clemmie was raised by her stepfather, a farmer in Ozark, Missouri. She married James Washington Owen (1848-1889) at 17. By the time she was 35, she was a widow and had given birth to seven children, lost two of them, and had lost her mother. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Clemmie was living in Coffeyville, Kansas with her youngest daughter, Stella.

While Kansas ratified the 19th Amendment, women were allowed to vote in local elections there starting in 1887, and in 1912 won universal voting rights. So perhaps Alice Stephenson and Stella Miller had already been voting for years. Clemmie Owen moved from Missouri, (where women did not have the right to vote until 1920), to Kansas between 1910 and 1920, and may have seen the 1920 ratification as a new opportunity.

Amanda Jane (Hahn) Miller (1849-1942) – My great great grandmother Amanda Jane Miller was 71 in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was born in Columbiana County, Ohio, raised on her family’s farm, the fourth of sixth children. According to the 1940 Census, Amanda attended college for two years, presumably before 1870, when she married John Fremont Miller at age 21. For the first 15 years of their marriage they had a farm in Stark County, Ohio, where six sons were born, including my great grandfather, Franklin Pierce Miller. By 1885 they had moved the family to Webster County, Missouri, where the Miller family established a thriving farm and had two more children. A biographical sketch about John Miller indicates that he was active in Democratic Party politics, so perhaps Amanda joined him in casting her vote.

Of course, I don’t actually know when or where or even if any of these women cast their votes, but I love thinking of each of them hearing the news 100 years ago that they had the right: my Granny (the only one of these six I actually knew) as a very young woman; Mary, Alice, and Stella, each with a house full of kids; Clemmie, long a widow and grandmother, living her last years in her daughter’s home; and Amanda, at home on the farm with her husband John, having raised her large family. My next vote will be cast in memory of them all.

This is my Genealogy Blog Party entry for Women’s History Month at the Genealogy Blog Party for March, 2021!