Family History Through the Alphabet – T is for Twins, Trails, and Thornton

This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge focuses on the letter T. In researching my family history, I have run across a few noteworthy T’s.

T is for Twins:

Twins are two offspring produced in the same pregnancy, and are either identical (monozygotic) or fraternal (dizygotic). Pregnancies resulting in more than two offspring are polyzygotic. According to statistics, twins occur in 1.1% of births, while triplets occur in 0.013% of births. As a fraternal twin (my brother’s name is Gerad), I was fascinated to learn of the other twins in my family when I began researching my family history.

Twin brothers, Frank and Kit Graber

The following is a list of the twins I have discovered in my family (excluding living persons), some of which are biologically related to me while others are not:

  • William Phylitis Davis (1876-1960), the adopted father of my paternal great grandmother Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), and his sister Lucy Davis (1876-?) were twins.
  • Inga Maja Stålberg (1863), the older sister of my 3rd great grandmother Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918), and her sister Kristina Stålberg (1863) were twins. Both died soon after birth, with Kristina dying under a month old and Inga at nearly eight months.
  • Emil Conrad Andersson Lowenburg (1875-1930), the husband of my 3rd great grandmother Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918) and step-father of Anna’s son Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), and his brother Samuel Oskar Andersson (1875-?) were twins.
  • Frank Balla (1912-1920), the brother of my maternal great grandmother Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006), and his brother John Balla (1912) were twins. John died at nearly four months old. Frank died at eight years old of congenital heart disease. According to oral family history, Frank and John were blue babies. Additionally, oral history states that Frank’s death followed him witnessing a horse get caught in barbed wire, after which he went into shock and died.
  • Pauline Katherine Rains (1913-1997), my step-great grandmother who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), and her brother Paul Robert Rains (1913-1978), were twins.
  • Kit Carson Graber (1875-1962), the father of my step-great grandfather Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), and his brother Frank Robert Graber (1875-1949) were twins.
  • Esther Balla (ca. 1888-ca. 1889), the sister of my 2nd great grandfather Alexander Balla, is said to have been the twin of her sister Vera Balla (ca. 1888-ca. 1905). Apart from oral family history, I have not been able to find any evidence (possibly due to the fact that they both died in Hungary).
  • Ann Eliza Backer (1854-1919), my 3rd great grandmother and the mother of Maudena Elizabeth Stearns (1885-1936) who married George Edward Kernan (1884-1960), is said, according to oral family history, to have been one of a triplet. The other two, one a boy and the other a girl, died young. One is said to have died soon after birth, while the other in infancy. However, I have not yet been able to find any records for them.
  • Oral family history claims that my 2nd great grandparents Frank Sebok (1875-1951) and Roza Mari Peto (1871-1937) had a couple sets of twins that died at birth or in infancy, possibly due to a cholera outbreak. However, I have not yet been able to find any records for them.
My fraternal twin brother, Gerad (left), and I sometime in the early 1980’s dressed as ALL twins should, alike!

T is for Trails:

T is also for trails. By trails I mean wagon trails used by pioneers in the mid-19th century to settle throughout the American West. There are three historically important trails that many researching their family history look into, which include the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the California Trail.

The Oregon Trail began as early as 1811 by fur traders, and became a full wagon trail by 1836. It was widely publicized by 1843. The trail traveled through the modern states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and then Oregon. The Mormon Trail began in 1846 in Illinois as a westward movement of members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, which passed through the modern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and then Utah. The California Trail began in about 1841, and traveled through the modern states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and then California. With the discovery of gold in 1848 the California Gold Rush was soon underway, during which time the trail saw a significant increase in use.

These three trials progressed along interrelated routes collectively known as the “Emigrant Trail,” starting in the Missouri River area until reaching South Pass in Wyoming, at which point they branched off. The Mormon Trail branched southward into modern Utah, while the Oregon Trail and the California Trail continued along interrelated routes until reaching Fort Hall in Idaho, at which point they branched off in different directions as well.

A Map Showing All Three Trails

The journey along the two longer trails took about six months. Conditions along these trails were arduous. Pioneers faced rough terrain, disease, Indian attacks, harsh weather conditions, and supply shortages, among other challenges. Estimates of deaths range from 9,000 to 21,000, with disease (particularly cholera) being the leading cause of death. Despite these conditions, pioneers blazed these trails in large numbers. Between 1840 and 1849, nearly 19,000 people traveled along these trails, the majority of which did so by way of the Oregon Trail. Between 1849 and 1860, nearly 280,000 braved these trails, the majority of which did so by way of the California Trail. While researching my own family history, I discovered that several of my ancestors were among these pioneers, and that I have connections to all three of trails.

My Agee and Thornton branches, which connect to my Lapham branch via my Wellin branch, have a connection to the Oregon Trail. My 5th great grandfather, Isaac Agee (1811-1900), his wife Cordelia Thornton (1815-1893), and their children left DeKalb Co., Missouri along the Oregon Trail in 1852, eventually settling in Gopher Valley, Yamhill Co., Oregon. Traveling with them along the trail were members of the Thornton family, also from DeKalb Co., Missouri. One part of this family was that of Simeon Toney Thornton (1818-1917) and his wife Elizabeth “Betsy” Ann Adams (1818-1852), their children, and Simeon’s mother and step-father. While still traveling on the trail, but after they had arrived in Oregon in 1852, Simeon’s wife Betsy went into labor and died during delivery. Oral tradition states that she was weak from the arduous trip, and had a difficult delivery. Another batch of Thorntons traveled from DeKalb Co., Missouri across the Oregon Trail to Yamhill Co., Oregon in 1865: the family of Jeptha Thornton (1821-1889) and Martha Ragsdale Walker (1820-1899).

A Map of the Oregon Trail

My Dunton branch, which married into my Kernan branch, has a connection to the Mormon Trail. Although I have not discovered if any of my direct Dunton ancestors were Mormon, a sibling of one definitely was. James Harvey Dunton (1829-1901), the brother of my 3rd great grandmother, Harriet Rose (Dunton) Kiernan (1836-1927), was a Mormon and traveled on the Mormon Trail from Hancock Co., Illinois to Utah, where he died in 1901. I have discovered no evidence (so far) that Harriet, herself, was a Mormon, as her husband, Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), was a Catholic. As for Harriet and James’s parents, James Cyrus Dunton (ca. 1800-1845) and Mary Comfort Knowles (ca. 1801-1845), I am uncertain. I have not discovered any hard evidence that states they were in fact Mormons; however, they left Steuben Co., New York (where Harriet and James were born) and ended up in Hancock Co., Illinois, where they died within months of each other in 1845. It was also in Hancock Co., Illinois that Joseph Smith and the Mormons established a community and temple at Nauvoo in 1839-1840, after fleeing persecution in Missouri. By the mid-1840’s, persecution of Mormons in this area of Illinois grew, as did internal struggles within the Mormon community. In 1844, Joseph Smith was assassinated by an angry mob that had stormed a jail where he was being held. Apart from violence, many Mormons starved or died from illness in Nauvoo and surrounding areas. Following his death, the violence did not stop, which ultimately resulted in Mormons setting out on the Mormon Trail for Utah. Where James Cyrus Dunton and his wife Mary among the Mormons who died due to violence, starvation, or illness? I have yet to determine that.

A Map of the Mormon Trail

Moreover, my Stearns branch, which married into my Kernan branch, has a connection to the California Trail. Lyman Stearns (1803-1879), my 4th great grandfather, was living and running a boarding house in Linn Co., Missouri in 1850, along with his wife Rebecca and their children. By 1852, they had left Missouri for California, undoubtedly hearing of the fortunes to be made in California gold mines, as they are enumerated on the 1852 California State Census living in Placer Co., California, which is among the counties of “Gold Country,” a region in California famous for its gold mines. Although no oral history accounts exist regarding their journey, most traveling to California at this time did so along the California Trail, the routes of which terminated in “Gold Country.” By 1860, Lyman and his family were living in Tuolumne Co., California, another county in “Gold Country,” where he had a worked a quartz mine called the “Riverside Quartz Mine.”

A Map of the California Trail

A wonderful historical account of the major westward trails in American History is John Unruh’s The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60 (1993). A free preview of the book can be found on Google Books.

T is for Thornton:

T is also for Thornton, a surname of English, Scottish, and Irish origins. My Thornton branch traces back to Westminster, London, England before their arrival in Virginia in about 1660 and Fulham, London, England. According to available research, moreover, the Thornton surname is a habitation surname, deriving from the Old English words “þorn,” meaning  “thorn bush,” and “tun,” meaning “enclosure” or “settlement.”

The Thornton surname is a maiden name in my ancestry that connects into my Agee branch (a branch of my Lapham branch) in three different ways, as shown below:

  • Mary Elizabeth (Thornton) Agee (1847-1920), my 4th great grandmother, was the wife of John Agee (1839-1912), and the grandmother of Lois Beatrice (Agee) Wellin (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and was the mother of my paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).
  • Anna Elizabeth (Thornton) Stephens (1842-1925), my 4th great grandmother, was married to Thomas Prigmore Stephens (1830-1910), and was the mother of Tirzah Olive Stephens (1873-1967), who married Otto W. Agee (1868-1904) and was the mother of Lois Beatrice (Agee) Wellin (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and was the mother of my paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).
  • Cordelia (Thornton) Agee (1815-1893), my 5th great grandmother, was married to Isaac Agee (1811-1900) and was the mother of John Agee (1839-1912), who married Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who is the same Mary Thornton that was mentioned above in the first bullet point.

Mary, Anna, and Cordelia are all related to each other, as they are descendants of William Thornton (1766-1843) and Martha Ann “Patsy” Owen (ca. 1766-?), my 7th great grandparents. Mary and Anna were both great granddaughters of William and Patsy, while Cordelia was a granddaughter.

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18 thoughts on “Family History Through the Alphabet – T is for Twins, Trails, and Thornton

  1. Thanks for visiting our blog. It gave me the opportunity to find yours. We actually have some similarities in our family histories. Have you ever used The Sprague Project. It can be very helpful for those who have family with roots in the early years of this country. In addition,isee you have family who lived in Rhode Island shortly after the Indian Wars. My Lewis family had members who lived in Westerly, R.I. During the wars. After the war they moved to Norwich, N.Y. Before my granddad moved to Madison, N.Y. And I have a relativewhotook a handcart to Utah and immediately returned to the mid-west. He was a Berry.

    And have you done any DNA testing. Iam anxious to learn about those who anderstand what it means better than I do.

    1. Hi. Thank you for visiting my blog. 🙂 I have not used The Sprague Project, but I will look into it. I have not yet done DNA testing, though I want to. I a particularly want to try one that is focused on Ireland, as I have not been able to find precisely where my family came from yet. I don’t think I have any Lewis or Berry family members, but i will have to check my file. 🙂

  2. You’ve got a whole lot of twins in your family haven’t you, but then again that does seem to be a trait in families (mine included). And thank you for the stories and maps about the Wagon Trails – it’s hard to even imagine a person or family setting off on such a journey, but they sure did.

    1. Yes, it does seem to be a trait in families; and it is nice to meet someone who has multiple births in their family as well. 🙂 I think the Wagon Trails are interesting. It is hard to imagine the difficulties today, since all we have to do is get in our cars, a train, or a plane. They surely were brave people.

  3. I think twins are wonderful and fascinating. My first husband is a twin, but his identical twin died at about a half hour old. These days he probably would have been saved! My husband has always missed his twin even though they never survived in life after birth together. He says there has always been something missing.
    Nice to see a picture of you (and your twin) at last! You are accumulating some wonderful history of your family.

  4. I don’t think that there are any twins in my family. It’s interesting how some families have many twins across the generations and others don’t have any. Great picture of you and your brother!

  5. Thanks for the information about the Oregon trail. I’ve been trying to figure out what prompted my husband’s ancestor to leave Guildford Co. NC in the 1850 to re-settle in York Co. Nebraska.

      1. From what I have read and from what I know about my own family, the main reason for those that traveled the Oregon Trail was new land grant opportunities mainly in the Oregon Territory. I suspect, however, that there were more land opportunities in the states along the way than where the Oregon Trail started. The Mormon Trail is the path the Mormons took as they were forced out of states. The California Trail probably began like the Oregon Trail (now land opportunities), but was continued by the Gold Rush.

      2. I don’t think I have ever found specific documentation for those in my family. However, their actions in the State of Oregon, for example, suggest their motive was probably land. The same with the California Trail–my ancestor Lyman Stearns left Missouri for California because of the Gold Rush (it seems), as he was a miner and had his own mine, which turned out to be a Quartz mine. The Mormon Trail is harder for me to link to my Ancestors, except by circumstantial evidence. My Dunton line goes back to Vermont then goes to New York, much like the founder of Mormonism. I’m not sure of their journey from New York, but they end up in Hancock Co., Illinois, which is where the Mormons were. I don’t know if my ancestors were Mormons, but one of their sons was, and he went on to Utah.

  6. Can you tell me where Pauline and Paul Rains were born? I have an old photo of what seems to be triplets, or twins, boy and girl, with a slightly older brother. The photo was dated 1915, and the children look to be about 3 years old. I bought the photo in New York. Feel free to e-mail me.

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