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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
I managed to spend more time than usual frolicking in my family research this year, including a trip to England in August and a road trip through family-related places in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina in March. The research was a refuge and escape from other worries at times, and the travel and people I connected with were pure magic. Genealogy was definitely a highlight of my 2019, with a few particularly special discoveries and experiences.
A brick wall came tumbling down; never seen photos emerged; I visited a cousin in England and made contact with several cousins I hadn’t known about; I walked in places where my ancestors spent their days. My plan was to blog about each of these, but most of those posts are still drafts… Goals for 2020!
OliversandOliphants – Finding the father of my born-out-of-wedlock 2nd great grandfather, David Oliver (my mother’s family name), has long been a challenge, and the discovery of DNA matches named Oliphant helped redirect my search. Thanks to the help of a great new online community, Walk My Past (see below), the mystery has been solved. David Oliver’s father, my 3rd great grandfather, was George Oliphant (1827-1904) from Bower, Caithness, Scotland. And… I found a photograph of the place he was living at the end of his life!
James Mills and Maria Milnes Photos – I’ve always had a fair amount of information on Granny’s (Elsie Mills, 1899-1993) maternal family, but not much on her father’s side. So far I’ve only turned up one blurry passport photograph of her father, James Mills (1863-1925). And then this unexpected gift! An Ancestry member posted a pair of photos from a family album–Granny’s grandparents, James Mills (1824-1904) and Maria Milnes (1825-1892). It was remarkable to see their faces and especially to discover how much my Granny looked like her grandmother.
Living Cousins – 2019 brought re-connection and first contact with close-ish cousins in England, Scotland, New Mexico, Texas, and New York. Some were through DNA matching and others through more old-fashioned methods. It turns out that a childhood friend is a 10th cousin (thank you, Ancestry DNA) and a friend from college is a 9th cousin. Best of all, I spent a lovely afternoon with my Mum’s first cousin in London. Another goal for 2020 is to be in contact with more cousins.
Ackworth School – Oh, my, what a thrill this was! In August I arranged to spend a day visiting Ackworth School in West Yorkshire, exploring the buildings, and poring through the archival material collected for me by Celia Wolfe, the school’s kind and incredibly knowledgeable archivist. I won’t spoil the post that I really, truly do still plan to write, but the short version is that I strolled the campus where my great grandmother, Emily Wright (1865-1954) was born and spent most of her childhood, where her parents worked, and where her ancestors on both sides and her siblings were students from 1780 through the late 19th century. The original buildings and grounds of this Quaker boarding school are little changed, so it felt like they could have been right there, walking the halls and pathways with me.
And there were photographs of students and teachers, including lots of wonderful images of Emily Wright and her parents, Mary Ann Deane (1841-1884) and Alfred Wright (1831-1901). The Quakers are precise record keepers, so there were documents rich in details about many family members. Proper blog post to follow!
Pennsylvania/Virginia/North Carolina Road Trip – A spur of the moment driving trip in March took me first to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, in the Susquehanna River Valley, north of Harrisburg, where I researched my Miller and Deppen ancestors. Thanks to the helpful folks at the Northumberland County Historical Society, I learned that my 4th great grandfather, John Miller (1774-1821), is said to have drowned in the Susquehanna River while checking his flooded land on the Isle of Que. The tiny island is one half mile wide and 5.5 miles long, part of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania on the west side of the river. I paid a quiet visit to that shore at dusk.
Next stop was Staunton, Virginia, where James and Maria (Milnes) Mills settled around 1870. I took a whirlwind tour of Trinity Church, where the family worshiped; Thornrose Cemetery, with a sizable Mills family plot beneath a majestic magnolia tree. Census records and city directories provided me with the addresses of several family homes, so I was able to find where James and Maria lived during their later years with some of their children.
The North Carolina leg of my road trip took me to Davidson County in search of late 18th to mid-19th century graves of my Owen, Bodenhamer and Goss ancestors. It was a bit of a wild goose chase. Visits to the Abbott’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Reeds Baptist Church Cemetery, and Becks Reformed Church Cemetery led me to graves of some collateral ancestors, but no direct ones. But the bonus was some exceptional decorative gravestones–well worth a quick visit!
Walk My Past – A new resource for genealogists appeared on the scene this year when amateur genealogist Abbie Allen decided to create Walk My Past, a website where people could easily offer or request help with their family history. The idea is simple– volunteer “genies” are available to help with requests for information, cemetery photos, or a trip to a nearby archive. With willing helpers scattered across the globe, it gives access to information that can be out of reach otherwise. There are now 187 genies in 14 countries and the numbers are growing. Definitely worth checking it out!
And I’m the happiest of users. A kind-hearted “genie”, Meredith Cane of Revill McKay, Scotland, saw my request for help tracking down the answer to my Oliver/Oliphant mystery. She was already working in Scottish records for that region, and was able to identify my 3rd great grandfather, George Oliphant. Hoorah!
There’s my 2019 in a very large nutshell. Now, onward to 2020 and new adventures.
When Ancestry alerted me of the anniversary of my great great grandmother Mary (Cocke) Hill’s death, I pulled up her obituary from the Baltimore Sun of October 31, 1903. I’d read it before, but imagine my surprise to read down to the list of honorary pallbearers. Out jumped a name I hadn’t noticed before–Major W. Stuart Symington–none other than (bear with me here) my husband’s step-father’s grandfather. OK, so Mary Hill’s husband, Nicholas S. Hill, also served in the Confederate Army, and both were from Baltimore. Not shocking, but fun to find.
I chuckled, texted a couple of family members, and went back to read it again. And noticed that Frank H. Hambleton, my step-father-in-law Fife Symington’s other grandfather, was also listed as an honorary usher! For real.
Mary Hill was taken ill while entertaining guests at the Washington, D.C. home of her daughter Irene Bolling. And bless the Baltimore Sun’s fuzzy little heart, they even gave Irene’s street address and mentioned that Mary was entertaining in the drawing room when she was stricken. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Zillow and similar real estate websites are fantastic resources for getting a look at family places.
Here is Aunt Irene’s home at 1808 Riggs Place in the Dupont Circle section of Washington:
City directories list Professor George M. Bolling at this address only from 1904 until 1906, with many other Washington addresses in the years preceding and following, so they must have been renting. Bolling taught Greek and Sanskrit at Catholic University during these years.
Thanks to the magic of Zillow, (oh, how I do love the internet!) I was even able to find interior photographs of this lovely, well-preserved house. This may have been the drawing room mentioned in Mary’s obituary:
A follow-up article appeared the next day, 1 November, 1903, describing the funeral held at the Baltimore Cathedral, where many other Hill family occasions occurred, and the procession to Bonnie Brae Cemetery. I recently visited the Cathedral and the cemetery (now New Cathedral Cemetery), where both my great grandparents are buried, and was touched to find their son-in-law, my great grandfather, James J. Mills with them.
What an unimaginable thing it would have been for the Hills and Symingtons and Hambletons to think of the connection of their respective offspring so many generations later!
Mary Watkins Cocke (Johnson) (1834-1903) and Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) – 2nd great grandparents (Irene (Johnson) Bolling (1862-1946) was the daughter from Mary’s first marriage.)
Mary Carroll Hill (1876-1937) and James J. Mills (1863-1925) great grandparents
Oh, my! Family History Month is here, and I need to send my intentions out into the universe. I have eleven–count ’em–unfinished drafts of blog posts and lots of other family history projects in mid-stream. I’ve taken several research trips and have information to organize. Lots to do!
I’ve just commited to Janine Adams’s 30 x 30 challenge to spend 30 minutes on genealogy research every day this month. That should help, but I need to focus! I have to confess that I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to family history projects. Oh, look! A shiny thing! Let me play with Ackworth School, Yorkshire records for awhile. Wait–there’s an Ozarks Genealogical Society?! Or maybe I should do a post about my 3rd great aunt and the Hawaiian Mission in the 19th century. This might be a good time to join the Caithness Family History Society and explore those Oliver family roots. Or maybe I’ll look at family paintings. A blog post about all the dogs in our family would be fun, too!
So how do you stay focused in your family research? And what will you do to celebrate Family History month? So many stories to find; so many stories to share!
I like my family history tangible. I want to see the places where my ancestors lived, learned, worked, and worshiped. I need to know what their faces looked like, read their very own handwriting, surround myself with their art, and if possible, I want to touch their stuff. Or better yet, wear it!
This month I joined in an Instagram “genealogy photo a day” challenge, and today’s theme was “my favorite heirloom.” Well! I picked one, but it was hard, and left me wanting to share more, so I think I’ll revisit this topic again soon.
This image of my maternal grandparents, Elsie Mills (1899-1993) and Kenneth Oliver (1898-1975), was taken before they were married in Baltimore in 1925, and has always been one of my favorites. He was 26 and a young doctor, and she was 25, a talented painter, and daughter of one of his medical school professors. I remember her regal bearing and sometimes haughty expression, but I don’t ever remember seeing him with such a dreamy expression.
This engagement portrait hangs in my house and Granny’s spectacular jacket hangs now in my closet. The cloth beneath the metallic mesh (which is very heavy!) is gray blue with a black lining. Very 1920s, very Art Deco, and very Granny. My favorite heirloom. At least for today…