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)

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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.

Sources

  • 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!

65th Anniversary Update: Well THAT Was a Mistake

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Today I got a reminder of how easy it is to unwittingly make stuff up in genealogy. Earlier this week I wrote an affectionate little post about my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. This morning I got a call from my mother, who said, “You’re not going to like this.” And she straightened me right out.

First of all, I had the year wrong. Celia Oliver and Bill Hare (born Stephenson) were married in Wellesley, Massachusetts on June 16, 1954 (not 1955), which was four days after Mum’s college graduation and a year before my Dad’s. Secondly, my aunt and uncle were in fact married in 1955, a year, not a few weeks, after my parents. Thirdly, I left out the part where Mum and Daddy were secretly married in Baltimore a year before their official wedding in Massachusetts.

So what, you say? Well, facts matter. And this story is actually different when it’s correct. And, since I’ve never located a marriage certificate for either the Maryland or Massachusetts marriages, I should have double checked with Mum instead of going on my memory of what I thought she’d told me long ago. And yes, this is the downfall of many a sloppy genealogist!

It was the 1950s. My parents were still in school and they quietly got married in 1953 in Baltimore. They were 19 and 20 years old and they never told their parents. Not ever. According to Mum, “Bill was afraid that because I was a year older I’d take off, and if we got married I wouldn’t.” So they got a marriage license, and one afternoon they rounded up two friends–Vince, a fraternity brother of my Dad’s, and Callie, a classmate of Mum’s–and went to the home of a Justice of the Peace. When it was over, Vince and Callie drove off in one car and Celia and Bill drove off in the other.

Because Mum was a year older than my Dad, they decided to get married when she graduated. They could get an apartment together (it was the ’50s) while she worked through his senior year at Johns Hopkins.

This morning Mum explained that my aunt and uncle traveled from Boston to Baltimore to visit them, the newlyweds, during the year before their own wedding in June 1955, again confirming that my dates were mixed up. So it’s actually my aunt and uncle whose 65th anniversary is this month…

And this solves my burning question as to why Mum would wear a suit to my Dad’s graduation a few days before marrying him in the same suit. What bride would do that?! The answer is that she’d worn the suit at her wedding first, the year before. I’m relieved.

So happy 66th (and 67th) anniversary and double check your facts! xxoo

A 65th Anniversary

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Celia and Bill on June 16, 1955 in Wellesley, Massachusetts

A big, fancy-numbered anniversary. Today is the 65th anniversary of my parents’ wedding.

Celia Oliver and Bill Hare (born Stephenson) met in college in Baltimore in the early 1950s. She was a student at Goucher College and he was at Johns Hopkins University. My Mum was a year older than my Dad, graduating from college in 1954. Their wedding took place soon after his 1955 graduation from Hopkins when he was 21 and she was 22.

It was a small, simple wedding at the house my grandparents were renting on the campus of Dana Hall School on Grove Street in Wellesley, Massachusetts. My mother wore a dark suit with white piping around the collar. It’s the same suit she was wearing in photos of my Dad’s graduation from Hopkins earlier that month.

Present were their parents–Ken and Elsie (Mills) Oliver and Bob and Esther Jane (Miller) Hare from Maryland, with Bob’s mother, Fern, (Bob was actually my Dad’s step-father); Mum’s brother Peter Oliver and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Connie Gibbs; my grandfather’s brother, A. Douglas Oliver from Philadelphia with his wife, Dessa, and two young daughters, Anne and Susan; and finally, my great-uncle, Clark Stephenson, (brother of my dad’s father, Bill Stephenson) with his wife Louise. And must not forget my grandparents’ boxer, Judy, who was an important part of my childhood a few years later!

I love the intimacy of the gathering, the silliness of my Dad hamming it up for the camera while Mum beams, the image of my dignified grandfather being silly. The house isn’t one I ever knew, but everything they’re surrounded by–furniture, hangings, rugs–is embedded in my childhood memories. It was a day filled with joy and promise.

My parents had adventures together during their six short years of marriage before my father’s early death. They drove cross-country to spend a year living in Alaska. They spent a year working in Germany. They had four years as parents together in Baltimore. And a dog. For all that, I celebrate them and look back on that day 65 years ago with gratitude.

UPDATE: Oh, my, did I get this wrong! My next post sorts it all out…

Discovered While Hunkered Down at Home: Nellie Miller

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Nellie M. Miller (1908-1920), about age 6.

Isn’t she precious?

Like many of us this housebound spring, I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate well enough to blog or even read much. But rummaging through old pictures is a perfect distraction.

My pictures are horribly unorganized (I know! A perfect quarantine project…) but I thought I knew what I had. To my delight, yesterday’s finds included three envelopes of pictures (1915-1980s) given to me years ago by my Aunt Marjorie (Miller) Willbern, my grandmother’s sister and my godmother. And out popped this picture of their sister Nellie M. Miller, which I don’t remember having seen before.

I don’t know much about Aunt Nell. She was the third child of Frank and Stella (Owen) Miller, born in 1908 after her family moved from Marshfield, Missouri to Coffeyville, Kansas and she died in 1920.

Stella (Owen) Miller with daughters (l-r) Marjorie, Nell, and Thelma. Taken about 1908.

I’ve always loved this picture of Stella with her first three daughters, and the one below, taken when Nellie was two and looking very solemn. Nellie was six when my grandmother, Esther Jane Miller was born in 1914, and sadly, she died at age twelve when Grandma was only six. Finding the sweet image of her in hat, coat, and boots pleases me so much–she is not forgotten.

Nellie at age 2 at a large gathering of Miller cousins in 1910.

Postscript: My great grandmother Stella’s first daughter, Marjorie, was born in 1901. On August 11, 1923, Stella gave birth to Martha Lee Miller, her fifth daughter, but lost her two days later. Below are the three surviving sisters.

This Charming Kansas Bride

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From The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 28 July 1938

“This Charming Kansas Bride” is Grandma in 1938, and newspaper archives may just be my favorite resource.

Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare was born in 1914 and raised in Coffeyville, Kansas. I knew she had done some modeling, and have a copy of this photograph, but until I was poking around in newspapers.com today, I didn’t know what the bridal shot had been used for. It was NOT from the wedding of the “lovely Mrs. Hare,” but the “true story of her romance” with Bob Hare, my dad’s stepfather, told above is one I’ve never heard, and may hold some grain of truth. Or not.

The text is hard to read in the image above, but describes how she first met Bob in high school, (probably not true–he was five years older, but did grow up in Independence, the next town to Coffeyville), but he had no interest in her. “And I blamed my complexion.” Then, thank goodness, Grandma discovered Camay soap.

Wichita–Spring 1936. “Five years passed during which Bob and I never met [During which she started college, met my grandfather, gave birth to my dad, got divorced, all before she turned 23]–and then we met at a dance. What a difference there was then in the way Bob treated me!” All thanks to Camay and her lovely complexion.

Coffeyville–Fall 1936. “Then one fall night under a harvest moon I became engaged–yes, to the man who once had never even noticed me!” And in fact, Jane and Bob were married in February 1937.

Bob and Esther Jane with my dad, Bill. Taken about 1938.

What is not fiction is that she truly was beautiful and charming. Also funny and smart. And, even with a little eye rolling at the “Soap of Beautiful Women” commercial fiction, I’m so happy to have stumbled across this advertisement today.

Relationships:

  • Esther Jane Miller (Stephenson) (1914-1975) and Robert Ralph Hare (1909-1979), my grandmother and step-grandfather
  • William Edward Stephenson, Jr. (adopted by Bob and changed his name to William Stephenson Hare) (1933-1961), my dad
  • Me

Family History Magic from Augusta, Kansas

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Maybe it’s because the internet didn’t become part of my life until I was well into adulthood, but I still believe it’s magical. And that’s been proven again and again in my family history research. Sometimes the magic is random, and sometimes it’s been the result of methodical research, but either way, the information and contacts that have come to light feel like gifts that have fallen from the sky.

My grandfather, William Edward Stephenson (1910-2004), was born and raised in Augusta, Kansas. His dad, Richard W. Stephenson (1874-1960), started a men’s clothing store in town around the 1910s, and Bill’s older brother Paul Noble Stephenson (1902-1972) and his wife Dorothy continued the business until about the 1960s. I wrote a post about Grandpa Bill and his younger brother, Clark (1911-1994), and their high school and college yearbooks here.

On a whim this week, I did a search on WordPress for Augusta, Kansas. No particular reason. And what popped up was a bunch of blog posts by crittersandcats/Dave, who shares stories for his kids and grandchildren about growing up in Augusta in the ’40s and ’50s.

As if it wasn’t enough for me to get some local flavor for a place I’d only visited a couple of times, Dave answered my comment by sharing that he’d known my family and had written a story including Uncle Paul, Aunt Do, and their son, my dad’s cousin Dick!

Back in the 1950’s, we had a men’s clothing store in Augusta, Kansas. It was owned and operated by Paul Stephenson as Stephenson’s Men’s Clothing. The store was located on the east side of the 500 block of State Street, nestled up against the Prairie State Bank, on its north and Mamie Hall’s book store on the south. Paul and his wife (only 60 years and I’ve forgotten her name) were in the store every day, well dressed and professional but friendly in demeanor. Their son, Dick, was a classmate of mine. Dick and I graduated in 1954 and I went to work and I think Dick headed for the University of Kansas. The following year, I was going to attend a wedding and needed a new suit. I went down to Stephenson’s and Paul fitted me with a new outfit and his wife set me up with a lay-away plan to pay for it. Those were the last dealings I had with the Stephenson family.

crittersandcats, https://crittersandcats.com/2017/08/24/small-speck-small-world-big-ocean/

Dave goes on to write about an unplanned landing in Guam in 1959, where he bumped into Dick, who was by then an ensign in the Navy. Small world!

Richard (Dick) I. Stephenson (1937-2009) Yearbook, University of Kansas, 1958

The moral of the story is: Methodical research is all well and good, but don’t forget that serendipity also plays a part. Indulge yourself in the obscure Google search. See if somebody has written a blog post about your grandfather’s small home town, or the tiny school your great grandmother attended, or the newspaper your great great grandfather published. Surprise connections sometimes fall from the sky. There IS magic. (And thank you, Dave!)

P.S. Dick had won my heart as a five year old (just a few years after Dave’s story) when he came to visit, looking quite dashing in his Navy uniform. He pulled out a guitar and sang to me. “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” has been a favorite folk song of mine ever since…