Fearless Females Challenge: March 14 – In the News

The following post continues the month long Fearless Females Challenge by Lisa Alzo, author of The Accidental Genealogist blog, which is focused on “celebrating and honoring ‘fearless females’ in our family trees” to mark National Women’s History Month, which is the month of March, with a post responding to unique prompts for each day of the month.

Prompt for March 14 — Newsmakers? Did you have a female ancestor who made the news? Why? Was she famous or notorious? Did she appear in the social column?

Researching my ancestors has not reveled too many news-makers, apart from obituaries or notices of funerals.However, while researching my Hamilton (originally Heldman) branch, I discovered a female that certainly qualifies as a news-maker, Rhoda Margaret (Horner) Heldman (1908-1928), my great grand aunt, who was also known (in newspapers) as the “Phantom Flapper Killer.”

My maternal great grandfather, Harry Carol Hamilton (1891-1960), was born Carl H. Heldman in Robinson, Crawford Co., Ohio the son of Rufus Bert Heldman (1870-1944), a plumber, and Jennie M. Lightcap (1872-1905). Harry had three siblings, one of which was a younger brother named Wilbur Owen Heldman (1900-?). In 1927, Wilbur married Rhoda Margaret Horner (1908-1928), who perfered to go by her middle name, Margaret, and was originally from Pennsylvania. Wilbur and Margaret had one child together, Emmitt Richard Heldman, who was born in 1928. Wilbur was employed at this time as a furnace salesman in the Canton and Lorain area. They lived in Lorain.

On December 6, 1928, a young woman wearing a blue chinchilla coat got off a 6:00 pm bus near an Inn in Canton, Ohio, being observed by passengers, the bus driver, and the Innkeeper. While waiting for another bus, she walked a little ways away to the home of Vernard Fearn, a 35-year-old coal merchant and mine operator.

Mr. Fearn was at home with his wife, Mary, and their daughter Kathryn. Mary was preparing dinner, when a knock was heard at the door. She answered, and the young woman specifically asked for Mr. Fearn. Mary told her husband someone was at the door for him. As soon as he came to the door, the young woman pulled out a 32 caliber gun and shot Mr. Fearn six times, with three of the bullets entering his chest, another entering his side as he spun around, another entering his back as he fell to the porch, and a sixth grazing his neck. The young woman is reported to have fired two more rounds into the screen door frame. After the shooting, the young woman was reported to have walked back to the bus stop, boarded a bus, road to downtown Canton, and disappeared in a crowd of Christmas shoppers.

According to his death certificate, Vernard E. Fearn (1893-1928) was murdered on December 6, 1928 in an apparent homicide in which “he was shot through the heart with a 32 caliber gun” while standing “on the porch of his house.” The media coverage of this murder dubbed the murderer “the phantom flapper” killer, because witnesses described her as a young woman dressed in a blue chinchilla coat.

Death Certificate of Vernard Fearn
Death Certificate of Vernard Fearn

On the night of December 13, 1928, about a week after Mr. Fearn’s murder, Wilbur Heldman brought his wife, Margaret, to the office of Sheriff Ed Gibson. She had been shot with a bullet in the heart and was dying. She was rushed to Mercy Hospital, where shed died at 7:30 pm. According to reports, Wilbur stated that before this, Margaret came to him and confessed that she had killed Mr. Fearn, and that she shot herself while they were driving to Canton from their home in Lorain to turn her over to the police. He told the police that Margaret said that Mr. Fearn “had made [her] life like a ‘hell on earth.’” (No details exist as to what Wilur meant by that.) In addition to Wilbur’s statements, Mr. Fearn’s widow, Mary, apparently identified Margaret as the killer. This lead Sherriff Gibson and the Stark County Prosecutor, Henry Harter, to concluded that Margaret was indeed the “Phantom Flapper” killer that they had been looking for in the murder of Mr. Fearn.

Death Certificate of Margaret Heldman
Death Certificate of Margaret Heldman

However, not everyone was satisfied. Margaret’s family, who took her body back to Pennsylvania for burying, appear to have thought that some or all of Wilbur’s statements did not make sense, and requested that a second autopsy be performed. Following this, the coroner, T. C. McQuate, charged that Wilbur was “morally responsible for his wife’s death.” On December 31, 1928, he was bound over without bond to the Stark County Grand Jury after a preliminary hearing decided that he was to be charged as the “moral murderer of his pretty 21-year-old wife Margaret.” Wilbur was eventually cleared of all charges, and released, after which he eventually left Ohio and possibly changed his name.

In addition to Margaret’s family, many others did not believe that she was the “Phantom Flapper” killer. Many of the eye-witnesses, including the bus driver, the innkeeper, and numerous bus passengers stated that Margaret was most certainly not the woman in the blue chinchilla coat. Some even suggested they thought the young woman could have actually been a man dressed in a woman’s coat and hat. Although officially closed, the murder of Mr. Fearn, the identity of the “Phantom Flapper” killer, and what role Margaret Heldman played in this (if any) remains a mystery today. Many wonder if Wilbur was actually the murderer of both Mr. Fearn and his wife over an alleged affair between Mr. Fearn and Margaret. Others speculate if there wasn’t a business connection, as Wilbur was a furnace salesman and Mr. Fearn was a coal dealer. Because of these unclear motives, mysterious and uncorroborated confessions, and eye-witness testimonies pointing to someone else, the story of the “Phantom Flapper” is a legendary mystery in Ohio criminology, appearing in numerous publications, including two specific works by John Stark Bellamy II: The Corpse in the Cellar and Women behaving badly: true tales of Cleveland’s most ferocious female killers: an anthology. In both these works, the title reads, “The Phantom Flapper Killer: The Mystery of Margaret Heldman (1928).”

The following are clippings from the The Toledo News-Bee on Dec 14, 1928, complete with details and photographs:

Margaret Heldman News Article Part 1 Margaret Heldman News Article Part 2

Margaret Heldman News Article Part 3 Margaret Heldman News Article Part 4

Fearless Females Challenge: March 11 – Tragic or Unexpected Death

The following post continues the month long Fearless Females Challenge by Lisa Alzo, author of The Accidental Genealogist blog, which is focused on “celebrating and honoring ‘fearless females’ in our family trees” to mark National Women’s History Month, which is the month of March, with a post responding to unique prompts for each day of the month.

Prompt for March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how did this affect the family?

In my ancestry, I have a few female ancestors that died young, though I have far more that lived beyond the age of 65. For example, Anna Elizabeth (Stålberg) Lowenburg (1869-1918), my 3rd great grandmother, died at age 49; Emoline Pauline (Reynolds) Lapham (1844-1886), my 3rd great grandmother, died at age 42; Kerstin (Nilsdotter) Stålberg (1841-1870), my 4th great grandmother, died at age 29; Eva Flora (McLaughlin-Beeney) Elben (1863-1899), my 3rd great grandmother, died at age 36; and Jennie M. (Lightcap) Heldman (1872-1905), my 2nd great grandmother, died at age 32. However, each of these died from disease, rather than tragic or unexpected circumstances.

In addition to those that died young from disease, I have three cases where a female ancestor died from tragic or unexpected circumstances. The first of these is the death of Elizabeth “Betsy” Ann (Adams) Thornton (1818-1852), my 5th great grandmother. Betsy, her husband, Simeon Toney Thornton (1818-1917), their children, and other members of their family left Missouri for the Oregon Territory along the Oregon Trail. While still traveling on the trail, but after they had arrived in the Oregon Territory (near present day Heppner, Morrow Co., Oregon), Betsy went into labor and died during a difficult delivery on September 9, 1852 at the age of 34.

Betsy (Adams) Thornton
Betsy (Adams) Thornton

Another case is that of the death of Mary Comfort (Knowles) Dunton (ca. 1801-1845), my 4th great grandmother. Mary’s death, which took place on July 20, 1845 in Hancock Co., Illinois, is something of a mystery for me. She died at the age of 44 on the same day as her husband, James Cyrus Dunton (ca. 1800-1845). Presently, I have not been able to uncover the cause of their deaths. However, I have found that this county of Illinois was home at this time to many Mormon settlers (particularly around Nauvoo), who faced continuous persecution. I have read that around the time of Mary’s death, Hancock County was experiencing significant numbers of deaths resulting from disease and/or starvation that resulted from the persecution of Mormons in that county connected to the Mormon Wars. Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of the Later Day Saints, had been killed in Carthage, Hancock Co., Illinois by a mob a few months short of a year before Mary and James’s death. plunging the Mormon community into a difficult time. Although I have not been able to find any information that indicates that Mary’s death (or that of her husbands) was in anyway connected to these events, or that they were even Mormons, I do know that their son James Harvey Dunton, was a Mormon, and left the area with the Mormons.

Nauvoo, Hancock Co., Illinois in the 1840s

The third case is that of the death of Mattie (Blankenship-Worthington) Ward (1903-1944). Mattie was the second wife of my 2nd great grandfather, Ernest Jacob Worthington (1885-1939), and the step-mother of my great grandmother Goldia “Goldie” Mae Worthington (1912-2006). Mattie died on April 10, 1944 in Harrison, Boone Co., Arkansas after a tornado hit their home. Mattie was thrown from her bed and crushed to death in the wreckage of the home.

Headstone of Mattie (Blankenship-Worthington) Ward
Headstone of Mattie (Blankenship-Worthington) Ward

Fearless Females Challenge: March 10 – Religion

The following post continues the month long Fearless Females Challenge by Lisa Alzo, author of The Accidental Genealogist blog, which is focused on “celebrating and honoring ‘fearless females’ in our family trees” to mark National Women’s History Month, which is the month of March, with a post responding to unique prompts for each day of the month.

Prompt for March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

Religion has often played a very large role in the lives of my ancestors. Several branches in my family tree faced persecution and left their native homelands because of their religion, which of course included female ancestors. Early ancestors in my Lapham branch were Quakers, as were early ancestors in my Worthington (which married into my Hamilton branch). Early ancestors in my Stearns branch (which married into my Kernan branch) were Puritans. Early ancestors in my Agee branch were Huguenots. Also, early ancestors in my Graber branch were Mennonites.

The role of religion in my more recent ancestors (include my female ancestors) had varying degrees of importance. My paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann (Lapham) Kernan (1936-2004), was a devout Catholic. My maternal grandmother, Alberta (Sebok) Hamilton (LIVING), was raised in Protestant churches, particularly the Pentecostal Church. As for my great grandparents, I am less certain what role played in their lives. From what I have uncovered on this topic, it appears that religion didn’t play a major role. This, of course, is not to say that they didn’t believe in God or attend any religious services.

My paternal great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth (Davis-Kernan) Smith (1912-1992), appears to have been raised in a Baptist home, but her first husband, Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), was raised in a Catholic home. It is unclear, however, if Maxine (or Delmar) ever really participated in either of these. The same is true of my paternal step-great grandmother, Pauline Katherine (Rains-Rowlands) Kernan (1913-1997), who was Delmar’s second wife. My other paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia (Wellin-Lapham) Graber (1916-1985), was raised, it seems, in a Baptist home, but married her second husband, Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1989), in a Methodist church. Her first husband, Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955), was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist, though it is unclear if Alice (or Theodore) ever participated in this church.

My maternal great grandmother, Goldia “Goldie” Mae (Worthington) Hamilton (1912-2006), and her husband, Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), do not appear to have been involved in any particular church, though they were (according to oral history) Methodists. My other maternal great grandmother, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006), grew up in a Protestant home that attended Baptist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal churches. Her husband, Albert Sebok (1903-1968), grew up in the Hungarian Reformed Church, but appears to have attended Pentecostal church when they went to church. Later in her life, she briefly consulted with members of the Christian Science church, but never converted or attended their services.

As for serving their church in some capacity, the closest any of my female ancestors comes is the involvement of my 2nd great grandmother Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham (1875-1951), who often went by Annie or Margaret, in the Seventh-Day Adventist church. Even at a young age, faith was important to her. As a biographical sketch in a funeral booklet states, “at the age of 14 years, she was converted and joined the United Presbyterian Church,” like her parents. However, “about four years later, she overheard a strange man make the remark that ‘You can’t find between the two lids of the Bible that the Sabbath has ever been changed.’ That deeply impressed her as she had been taught that it was changed when Christ rose. So she went to her Mother and asked where to find it in the Bible, and her Mother said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s in there somewhere.’ She said, ‘Well, I’m going to find it.’ She had a reference Bible with a brief concordance. She started her search, which lasted for months. She didn’t know there was such a thing as a Seventh Day Adventist Church, or any one who kept the seventh day. Her folks didn’t hinder her, neither did they help her. She studied it out alone with God’s help. Not that she wanted to keep the seventh day, but she wanted to know where the Bible said it has been changed, but finally decided that whoever made the change, it wasn’t God. And in order to be a Christian, she must obey God. So she told her folks that she couldn’t help what they did, but she was going to keep the Sabbath; she didn’t know the that she would ever have any one to keep it with her; she started keeping it alone, but when her folks saw how very much in earnest she was, they decided to keep it with her. One day her Father met the man in a store that made the remark, and found that he was a Sabbath keeper, and had a wife and five children and there was a woman and two children in town. So they all got together and organized a Sabbath School. That was indeed a happy day for [Annie], and she was always glad for the experience of studying it out for herself, and always thanked God for revealing it to her.”

Margaret Lapham
Margaret Lapham

Anna Margaret was an active member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church for most of her life, in Nebraska, Oregon, and Idaho. Some of her involvement included reciting or other ways sharing her Christian poems. A number of the poems in her Courage and Comfort (a collection of ninety poems she wrote in the 1940s), were published in “Gems of Faith” by the evangelist R.H. Nightingale, in “Quiet Hour Echoes” by the evangelist J.L. Tucker 1943, or in “Gleaner,” which appear to have been church newsletters or magazines. Some of these poems were also recited or broadcast by evangelists J.L. Tucker and R.H. Nightingale many times at church gatherings or over the radio.

The following is a page from Anna Margaret’s Courage and Comfort featuring a poem called “By Faith” that is noted to have “broadcasted by Evangelist J. L. Tucker.”

"By Faith," a Poem from Courage and Comfort by Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham
“By Faith,” a Poem from Courage and Comfort by Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham

78 Years Ago Today

On March 15, 1828, seventy-eight years ago today, William A. B. Gifford (1860-1935), my 3rd great grandfather, died in Boone Co., Arkansas. Following his death, William was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Harrison, Boone Co., Arkansas.

William & Sallie Gifford's Headstone
William & Sallie Gifford’s Headstone

William was the husband of Sallie T. Lytle (1854-1936), with whom he had three children, one of which was Mae Josie Gifford (1885-?) who married Ernest Jacob Worthington (1885-1939). William was born in 1860 in Tishomingo Co., Mississippi the son of Robert A. Gifford (1827-1871) and Elizabeth Bussa (1836-?).

77 Years Ago Today

On March 10, 1936, seventy-seven years ago today, Sallie T. (Lytle) Gifford (1854-1936), my 3rd great grandmother, died in Boone Co., Arkansas. Following her death, Sallie was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Harrison, Boone Co., Arkansas next to her husband.

William & Sallie Gifford's Headstone
William & Sallie Gifford’s Headstone

Sallie was the widow of William A. B. Gifford (1860-1935), with whom she had three children, one of which was Mae Josie Gifford (1885-?) who married Ernest Jacob Worthington (1885-1939). Sallie was born in Tennessee in 1854. Although her parents are presently unknown, oral family history claims that she was of Cherokee descent. Photographs of her existed at one point in which she is said to have resembled a person of Native American descent. These photographs were lost at some point in the 1970s.

141 Years Ago Today

On February 21, 1872, one-hundred and forty-one years ago today, Jennie M. Lightcap (1872-1905), my 2nd great grandmother, was born in Prairie, Holmes Co., Ohio the daughter of Samuel S. Lightcap (1844-1893) and Sarah Jane Saunders (1842-1887).

Jennie Lightcap Birth Record
Jennie Lightcap Birth Record (Left Side)
Jennie Lightcap Birth Record (Right Side)
Jennie Lightcap Birth Record (Right Side)

Jennie grew up in Holmes, Wayne, and Richland counties in Ohio where her father was a machinist and then an auctioneer. In 1890, Jennie married Rufus Bert Heldman (1870-1944) in Richland Co., Ohio. Together, Jennie and Rufus had four children, one of which was Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), my great grandfather, who changed his name to serve in World War I.

7 Years Ago Today

On February 19, 2006, seven years ago today, Goldia Mae “Goldie” (Worthington) Hamilton (1912-2006), my maternal great grandmother, died in a convalescent home in Bristow, Creek Co., Oklahoma. Goldie died at the age of 93 following many years of suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. Following her death, she was buried next to her husband, Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960) in Highland Cemetery in Okemah, Okfuskee Co., Oklahoma.

Goldie Hamilton's Headstone
Goldie Hamilton’s Headstone

Goldie was born in 1912 the daughter of Ernest Jacob Worthington (1885-1939) and Mae Josie Gifford (1885-?). In 1933 she married Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), with whom she had seven children. Goldie’s life was frequently filled with hardships, such as the abandonment of her mother when she was a little girl, living through the Great Depression, the tragic death of her step-mother, losing two of her seven children soon after their birth (one of which was her only daughter), watching one of her sons go to prison, and the death of her husband when she was only forty-eight. Despite these hardships, Goldie always found a reason to smile and laugh. She found tremendous comfort in simple things, particularly her many pets.

Goldie Hamilton
Goldie Hamilton, ca. 1960s

68 Years Ago Today

On November 1, 1944, sixty-eight years ago today, Rufus Bert Heldman (1870-1944), my 2nd great grandfather, died at Hammond Rest Home in Mansfield, Richland Co., Ohio. According to his death certificate, Rufus died from arteriosclerosis. He was buried on November 4, 1944 at Shreve Cemetery in Shreve, Wayne Co., Ohio.

Death Certificate of Rufus Bert Heldman

Family History Through the Alphabet – W is for Weddings and Wedding Anniversaries

This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge features the letter W.  Noteworthy W’s I have run across while researching my ancestry are weddings and wedding anniversaries.

W is for Weddings:

Weddings are an important and joyous event in anyone’s life, and no less so for the generations that came before us. Although I have records for marriages throughout my ancestry, I have few photographic, oral, or written accounts of the weddings that took place. The following are some of the ones that I have uncovered in the course of researching my ancestry.

My paternal grandparents, William Kernan (LIVING) and Margaret Ann Lapham (1936-2004), were married on June 28, 1952 in Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon. The wedding took place at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, and the service was conducted by Rev. Patrick J. Dooley. The service was reported in The Milwaukie Review, a local paper in Oregon. The following newspaper clippings provide some details, such as a description of my grandmother’s wedding dress, the names of those who attended and the roles they played during the service, in addition to the only surviving photos from their wedding.


My paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia (Wellin) Lapham (1916-1985), married Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), her second husband, on December 13, 1947 in Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon. Although I have few details of their wedding, I do know, from their wedding book that contains their certificate of marriage, that they were married in a Methodist church, and the services was officiated by Rev. Henry E. DuVall. The witnesses were Willard’s brother, Noel Graber, and Alice’s aunt, Althea (Agee) Morgan. Apart from these facts, I have some nice photographs from their wedding.


Perhaps the oldest image I have run across for a wedding in my ancestry is for that of my 9th great grandparents, John Bigelow (or Biglo) (1617-1703) and Mary Warren (1624-1691). John and Mary were married by a Mr. Nowell on August 30, 1642 in Watertown, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. The following painting is said to be of John and Mary dancing at their wedding party (unverified by me).

Although I have no photographs for their wedding, I have an oral family history account regarding the wedding of my 2nd great grandparents, Alexander Balla (1886-1950) and Julia Molnar (1885-1962). According to this account, Alexander and Julia, who were from the same village in Hungary (Eszény) immigrated to the United States separately, with Julia coming to the United States first (1902), as she was offered a job working in the same household as her sister, Elizabeth, in Manhattan, New York. This family, whose name has unfortunately been lost to time, was fairly well off financially—they could afford to have a personal cook (Elizabeth) and at least one maid (Julia). Julia and Alexander were eventually reunited at a Hungarian Church social, which sparked a relationship that resulted in a marriage proposal in 1907. When the family Julia had been working for since her arrival in 1902 learned of this, they offered to pay for the wedding because they had grown very fond of her over the years. Alexander and Julia’s wedding took place on September 9, 1907, at which Julia is said to have been given away by the head of the household she worked in.


W is for Wedding Anniversaries:

Related to weddings are, of course, wedding anniversaries, milestones of which are often important events in the lives of our ancestors, as well for us today.

My 2nd great grandparents, Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), were married on December 2, 1914 in Vancouver, Clark Co., Washington. On December 2, 1964, Wilhelm and Lois celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, for which they had a family gathering and open house. This milestone in their marriage is recorded in the newspaper clipping below. By the time their marriage vow of “until death do us part” was realized in 1977, Wilhelm and Lois were married for nearly sixty-three years.

Kit Carson Graber (1875-1962) and Iva Mae McKeehan (1879-1950), the parents of Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), the second husband of my great grandmother Alice Lucretia (Wellin) Lapham (1916-1985), were married on February 27, 1893 in Mount Pleasant, Henry Co., Iowa. By the time their marriage parted in death in 1950, Kit and Iva were married for nearly fifty-seven years. The photograph below was taken on the occasion of their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary.


The following is a table of some of those in my ancestry that celebrated the milestone of making it to their 50th wedding anniversary:

Husband Wife Years
Wilhelm Percy Wellin Louis Beatrice Agee 1914-1977
Isaac Agee Cordelia Thornton 1831-1893
Kit Carson Graber Iva Mae McKeehan 1893-1950
Thomas McLaughlin Margaret Wilson 1833-1891
William Phylitis Davis Mary Magdelene Williams 1906-1960
Jesse Beeney Mary An Wys 1803-1857
Jacob Worthington Elmina Couch 1865-1920
Boyd Ferguson Seely Rebecca Allen 1857-1909
William Kernan (LIVING) Margaret Ann Lapham 1952-2004

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Family History Through the Alphabet – U is for Unknowns, Unfortunate Findings, & U Surnames

This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge features the letter U. The following are a few noteworthy U’s I have run across while researching my ancestry.

U is for Unknowns:

Although no ancestry will ever be 100% complete, everyone that begins researching their ancestry tirelessly seeks to accomplish just this. We search to the point of frustration for that elusive ancestor that we want to uncover. When I began researching my ancestry, I was excited every time I was able find another generation back in my family history. When I ran into brick walls, I would get frustrated, irritated, and discouraged.

Over the years I have learned to be more patient, and have realized that eventually I will uncover the unknowns, if they are possible to uncover. I have my fair share of unknowns in my family tree beginning with the sixth generation back from myself. Through countless hours of searching through records I have been able to find some of them. Although I have many more to uncover, I hope to do so as more and more records become accessible, particularly those in other countries.

U is for Unfortunate Findings:

U is also for unfortunate findings. It has been my experience that many people are unwilling or uneasy to begin searching their ancestry out of fear of discovering something truly unfortunate or unpleasant in their family tree. Here in America, people fear finding slave ownership, support of the Confederacy (if they are in the North), murderers, prison sentences, traitors, thieves, illegitimacy, and inbreeding.

While researching my ancestry, I have come across a number of unfortunate findings, of which the following are the most significant:

  • Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), my maternal great grandfather, served a prison sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary prior to 1933 (the year he married my great grandmother Goldie).
  • Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), born Per Vilhelm Ture Stålberg, my 2nd great grandfather, was of illegitimate birth.
  • George Benton Beeney (1890-1970), my 2nd great grandfather, was convicted of larceny following his separation from his wife (Gladys), and putting his daughter (Maxine) up for adoption.
  • Ernest Jacob “Jersey” Worthington (1885-1939), my 2nd great grandfather, was of illegitimate birth.
  • Theodore Frelinghuysen Stearns (1844-1930), my 3rd great grandfather, abandoned his family in Oregon and moved to California.
  • William B. Lapham (1838-1935), my 3rd great grandfather, committed suicide (according to his death certificate) after a long life of debilitating illness following service in the Civil War.
  • Anna Eliza Backer (1854-1919), my 3rd great grandmother, was of illegitimate birth and the only surviving triplet.
  • István “Stephen” Balla (1858-ca. 1930), my 3rd great grandfather, abandoned his family in Hungary when he came to the United States and started a new family (without divorcing his first wife), and then abandoned his second family when one of his sons, my 2nd great grandfather, from his first marriage found him.
  • Robert A. Gifford (1827-1871), my 4th great grandfather, served in the Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
  • Isaac Agee (1811-1900), my 5th great grandfather, ran as a Secessionist candidate for Yamhill Co., Oregon Commissioner in 1862.
  • William Thornton (1766-1843), my 7th great grandfather, was a slave holder like his father, Luke Thornton (1743-1801).
  • I also have a distant ancestral connection to Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), whose name is synonymous with being a traitor in America.

Although these are unfortunate findings in my ancestry, I don’t try to hide them (as some do), but rather seek to learn not only more about the individual lives involved, but how I might grow as a person from them. Just as unfortunate situations don’t entirely define our lives in the present, they don’t for our ancestors; nor do they define our heritage, as many other lives play a role in shaping it.

U is for U Surnames

U is also for surnames that start with the letter U, of which I have two: Uzille and Underwood.

Uzille (or Usille) is the maiden name of my 9th great grandmother, Marie Uzille (1686-1760), who married Leonard LeRoy (1674-1750). Marie and Leonard are direct ancestors of Gertrude Charity Laraway (ca. 1797-1874), the wife of Ezekiel Cook (ca. 1790-1850), and great grandmother of Gladys M. Cook (1894-1957), the wife of George Benton Beeney (1890-1970) and biological mother of my great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). The surname, for which there are many variations, appears to be French or Belgian in origins. My Uzille line traces back to Calais, France in 1635. The family left France because of policies against Huguenots (French Protestants), immigrating first to Belgium and then the Palatinate by 1660, living near Mannheim. In 1660, they immigrated to New Netherlands (now New York) aboard the Gilded Otter. They are listed among the Walloons (French speakers from Belgium) in New Netherlands. The meaning of the Uzille surname is not known, though it is speculated that it may be a habitation name, deriving from a place name like Ouville-la-Rivière, with spelling alterations being the result of Belgian or Dutch influence.

Underwood is the maiden name of my 7th great grandmother Hannah Underwood (ca. 1724-1753), who married Benjamin Marshall (1723-?) and was the mother-in-law of Enos Davis (1760-1841), who was the great grandfather of William Phylitis Davis (1876-1960), the adoptive father of my great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth Davis (1912-1992), who married Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). The Underwood surname is English in origins, though it is also found in Scotland. My Underwood line can be currently traced to Pennsylvania. According to available research, the Underwood surname is a habitation name for someone who either lived near the woods, as the surname derives from the Middle English “under,” meaning “under,” and “wude,” meaning “wood.”

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