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

193 Years Ago Today

On March 18, 1820, one hundred and ninety-three years ago today, Martha Ragsdale (Walker) Thornton (1820-1899), my 5th great grandmother, was born in Smith Co., Tennessee the daughter of Edward Walker (1776-1848) and Mary Griffin (1781-1853).

Martha (Walker) Thornton
Martha (Walker) Thornton

Martha was the wife of Jeptha Thornton (1821-1889), whom she married in 1840 in Missouri; and with whom she had ten children, one of which was Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who married John Agee (1839-1912). Mary and John were the paternal grandparents of Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977). Lois and Wilhelm were the parents of Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955). Alice and Theodore were the parents of my paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann (Lapham) Kernan (1936-2004).

Fearless Females Challenge: March 2 – Photograph

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 2 — Post a photo of one of your female ancestors. Who is in the photo? When was it taken? Why did you select this photo?

Although I don’t have as many family photos of my ancestors as some do, I do have some good ones, particularly of my female ancestors. There are two photos that stand out the most in my family when I think of female ancestors. The first photo (shown below) is of my 6th great grandmother, Sally (Todd) Thornton (1793-1891). Although I am not sure when the photo was taken, it seems likely it was taken towards the end of her life in 1891. I selected this photo because it is the only photo I have for a 6th great grandparent. I like this photo because it is amazing to see an ancestor of mine that was born five years after the ratification of the United States Constitution.

Sally (Todd) Thornton
Sally (Todd) Thornton

The second photo is one I featured on my blog nearly a year ago. Taken in 1965, this photo (show below) is a unique photograph in my family’s collection, as it consists of six generations of women in one photograph. The photo features women in my family born between 1873 and 1965. In the front row of the photo, from right to left, is Crystal (Graber) Friederich (1950-2011), Tirzah Olive (Stephens-Agee) Martin (1873-1967), and Gloria Lois (Lapham) Graber (1933-2008), who is holding Tracy Lynn Friederich (LIVING). In the back row of the photo, from right to left, is Alice Lucretia (Wellin-Lapham) Graber (1916-1985) and Lois Beatrice (Agee) Wellin (1897-1983). I selected this photo because it features three of my female ancestors, Alice, my great grandmother, Lois, my 2nd great grandmother, and Tirzah, my 3rd great grandmother. For me it is amazing to see that many generations in my family tree in one photo.

Six Generations of First Daughters
Six Generations of First Daughters

220 Years Ago Today

Headstone of William H. Thornton

On October 8, 1792, two hundred and twenty years ago today, William H. Thornton (1792-1858), my 6th great grandfather, was born in North Carolina the son of William Thornton (1766-1843) and Martha Ann “Patsy” Owen (1765-?).

William H. Thornton (1792-1858) married Sally Todd (1793-1891). William and Sally were the grandparents of Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who married John Agee (1839-1912). Mary and John were the grandparents of Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), the wife of Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), and mother of Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore “Ted” Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).

In a previous post, I discussed more of William’s life. Click here to view this post.

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.

Click here to learn more about Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge (Clicking this link will take you to another site.)

191 Years Ago Today

Jeptha Thornton

On September 11, 1821, one hundred and ninety-one years ago, Jeptha Thornton (1821-1889), my 5th great grandfather, was born in Auxvasse, Callaway Co., Missouri.

Jeptha was the fourth of eleven children born to William H. Thornton (1792-1858) and Sally Todd (1793-1891. Jeptha grew up in Callaway Co., Missouri, where his father ran a steam powered saw and grist mill. In 1840, he married Martha Ragsdale Walker (1820-1899), with whom he had at least ten children. In 1865, Jeptha, Martha, and their children left Missouri along the Oregon Trail for Oregon, settling in Yamhill County and then Douglas County, where he was a farmer.

While still in Missouri, religion became increasingly a part of Jeptha’s life. His mother, Sally, was said to have been a “professed Christian” and a member of the Baptist Church, while his father had no real religion to speak of. Jeptha determined at a young age that he would not be involved in religion unless he could preach it himself. He became actively involved in the Baptist Church in Oregon, and eventually, he became involved in the Primitive Baptist Church, where he became an Elder and preacher, traveling by horseback to preach at various churches in the area. Jeptha died in 1889 at the age of 67 in Roseburg, Douglas Co., Oregon.

There is a great biography written by Ralph J. Turner about Jeptha Thornton’s life, particularly his spiritual life, which can be found by clicking here.

Jeptha Thornton (1821-1889) and Martha Ragsdale Walker (1820-1899) were the parents of Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who married John Agee (1839-1912). Mary and John were the grandparents of Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who married Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977); and was the mother of Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), my great grandmother, who married Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).

154 Years Ago Today

Headstone of William H. Thornton

On September 6, 1858, one hundred and fifty-four years ago today, William H. Thornton (1792-1858), my 6th great grandfather, died in DeKalb Co., Missouri, USA at the age of 65. He made is will on September 1, 1858. He was buried in Thornton Cemetery in Clarksdale, DeKalb Co., Missouri.

William was born in 1792 in North Carolina the son of William Thornton (1766-1843) and Martha Ann “Patsy” Owen (1765-?). In 1804, William’s parents moved their family to Madison Co., Kentucky. It was in Kentucky that William met and married Sally Todd (1793-1891), with whom he had nine children. In 1816, William moved his family to Callaway Co., Missouri, as did his parents. He came to live in DeKalb Co., Missouri by 1840, where he was a farmer and saw and grist mill worker.

William H. Thornton (1792-1858) and Sally Todd (1793-1891) are my 6th great grandparents and the grandparents of Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who married John Agee (1839-1912). Mary and John were the grandparents of Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), the wife of Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977), and mother of Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who married Theodore “Ted” Alexander Lapham (1910-1955), my great grandparents.

Mary (Todd) Lincoln Family Connection Claim

Mary (Todd) Lincoln

On July 16, 1882, one hundred and thirty years ago today, Mary Ann (Todd) Lincoln (1818-1882), widow of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), died in Springfield, Sangamon Co., Illinois, USA. Although I am not a descendant of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, there is a claim in a branch of my family that there is a connection to Mary (Todd) Lincoln.

Sally (Todd) Thornton (1793-1891), my 6th great grandmother, apparently always claimed throughout much of her long life that she and the First Lady were distant cousins. Sharing the surname Todd and having a connection to Kentucky (where Mary was born) undoubtedly was all that was needed to convince Sally of her relationship to the wife of the 16th President of the United States. When I discovered this claim, I set out to learn if it had any truth to it.

Sally (Todd) Thornton

Sally’s family did come from Kentucky, as did Mary’s, but hers came from Madison County, while Mary’s came from Fayette County, which shares a border with Madison County. Mary’s grandfather, Maj. Gen. Levi Todd (1756-1807), appears to have settled in Kentucky prior to 1792, while Sally’s grandfather, Benjamin Todd (1725-1810), came around 1797. Both Sally’s and Mary’s grandfathers came from Pennsylvania, with Sally’s being from Northampton County and Mary’s being from the nearby Montgomery County. Both of their great grandfathers were also from Pennsylvania as well.

However, it is with their 2nd great grandfather’s that the story shifts. Sally’s 2nd great grandfather, Joshua Todd (ca. 1685-1721), was born in Pennsylvania the son of Joseph Todd (1645-1699), who was born in Eling, Hampshire, England. Mary’s 2nd great grandfather, Robert Todd (1697-1780), was born in County Armagh, Ireland and immigrated to Pennsylvania prior to 1725.

The ancestral lines prior to their 2nd great grandfathers become difficult to trace and confirm for both Sally and Mary. Both are claimed to either be of English or Scottish ancestry prior this generation. Most argue that Joseph Todd (Sally’s 3rd great grandfather) was the son of a John Todd (1594-1678), also of Eling, whose father, William Todd (1569-1617) was from Scotland. As for Mary, her 2nd great grandfather’s ancestry is said to be either English or Scottish prior to their presence in Ireland, with many claiming that the father of Robert was a James Todd (ca. 1638-1669), who is said to have been born in Scotland and died in Ireland.

Despite the remarkable similarities in journeys within the United States between their families, I have yet to find any connection or evidence that Sally (Todd) Thornton was indeed a distant cousin of Mary (Todd) Lincoln. Perhaps a connection still exists, but the significant challenges in tracing either line with certainty beyond their respective 2nd great grandfathers makes it unlikely that it will ever be discovered.

Headstone of Sally (Todd) Thornton

Although it is very likely that there is little merit to her claim of kinship to one of the most famous First Families in U.S. history, Sally remains for me a fascinating person to look at in my ancestry. It is interesting to note that her long life began in the presidency of George Washington, the 1st President of the United States, and ended, at the age of 98, during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States. It must have been amazing to witness all that she did.

Sally and her husband, William Thornton (1792-1858), are direct ancestors of my 4th great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who, together with her husband John Agee (1839-1912), are direct ancestors of my 2nd great grandmother, Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who is the mother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who was the wife of Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).