The Rose Among Thorns

“The Meanest Man Yet” Those were the headlines of an article I found while researching my great-great-grandfather, Wade H. Murphy.

WadeMurphy

Wade H. Murphy aka Harry F. Lyle

I had always known that my Great-grandma Johnson’s father didn’t raise her. Nor did her mother, for that matter. She was raised by her maternal grandmother, Lydia (Barton) Benjamin. But she always knew who her father was. Family rumors claim she saw him once or twice from a distance. Another family rumor was he was shot and killed coming out of a woman’s house. I was anxious to learn more – and learn more I did.

It would seem my great-great-grandfather, Wade Hampton Murphy, born 1876, was somewhat of a scoundrel. He was married first to M. Minnie Reynolds on 20 Nov 1898 in Wells County, Indiana. They had a daughter, Helen C. Murphy, 15 Oct 1899, Blackford County, Indiana. She died in 1904, aged 5 years.

Before his daughter Helen’s death, Wade H. Murphy, had an affair with Dora Benjamin, born 1886, ten years his junior. This affair would result in the birth of my great-grandma, Drucilla Rose Murphy, born 15 June 1902, two years before the death of his daughter Helen. Dora would have been 16. Wade, 26.

A newspaper article dated 26 June 1902, revealed the sinister side of Wade H. Murphy.  If  MeanestManYetNewspaperArticle26June1902you note the dates of my grandmother’s birth, 15 June, and the date of this article, 26 June, one can only surmise the “revenge” most likely had to do with the birth of his illegitimate daughter and quite possibly his wife, Minnie, finding out. My guess is that his wife’s sister, Mrs. Noah Kreps, who lived near Bluffton, Indiana, knew about the birth of his child and let her sister, Minnie Murphy, know. And so Wade Murphy reacted as any normal human being would, infecting the tattletales with smallpox. (Sarcasm!)

The story of Wade Murphy doesn’t end there! During my search, the trail to Wade Murphy dried up as if he fell off the face of the earth, until…

I found his Military record from serving in the Spanish-American War. His card lists his name as “Murphy, Wade Hampton” and “Lyle, Harry F. (now known as).” The man changed his name.

MurphyChangedName1932After visiting the Delaware County genealogy department, several records were found revealing details surrounding Harry F. Lyle. I first found him listed as Lyle in the 1910 Federal Census, married and living with his in-laws, the Sopers.

He had remarried in 1907, Kentucky, to Neta Soper. She became Mrs. Harry F. Lyle. Her life with Harry ended tragically on Valentine’s Day, 1932 when her poor little kitten found itself stranded in a neighbor’s tree. After Neta’s unsuccessful rescue attempts, and arguments with the drunken neighbor and a carload of his drunken friends, her husband came to her rescue. Harry / Wade, being the sweetheart I’m sure he was, went to secure his wife’s kitten from the neighbor’s tree.

The neighbor, Mr. Johnson, purportedly intoxicated, and somewhat irate, didn’t like how Harry’s wife had spoken to him or his friends, retrieved his gun and shot Harry F. Lyle dead. Harry’s wife Neta took her own revenge and, after retrieving her revolver, shot the neighbor dead.

My great-grandmother’s knowledge of her father has been verified through my DNA test, connecting to members of the present day Murphy family. I’ve contacted one family member who has never heard of my great-grandmother, who in the 1910 Federal Census went by the name “Rose.” It would seem they didn’t want to tarnish their family name with an illegitimate birth. I hate to tell them she was the rose among thorns.

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Runaway Slave and Abe Lincoln’s Grandpa Hanks share descendants.

I’m never really surprised when it comes to genealogy. There’s some pretty whacky folks hiding out in my tree, and I’ve resigned myself to the facts: we are what we are. Some folks hide behind shame, believing their reputations are on the line if anyone finds out. They worry about the respect earned from their children – thinking family will think less of them. Why not take it in stride? It’s a great mixture of people who make us who we are today. Check out this example I recently came across.

If you’re unaware of my friend’s history that I posted about earlier, you’ll need to refresh. In every rumor there’s a bit of truth… On her father’s side, we found her ancestor as a runaway slave. This week, on another branch of her father’s side, we found this lady named Nancy Hanks. You know, the mother of Abraham. Lincoln.

How ironic is it that through my friend’s father’s side she would be related to a runaway slave and President Abraham Lincoln – the president who freed the slaves? Make that Cousin Abe. It should be noted Cousin Abe isn’t related to the runaway slave. However, both did live in Indiana during different times, and different counties. The Hanks relatives moved from Kentucky into Johnson County, Indiana. The family of Abe moved from Kentucky to Spencer County, Indiana, where Abe’s mother died. If you’re interested, Google Abner Hanks. He was a Revolutionary War soldier, as well as being a cousin of Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

I think a trip to Johnson County, Indiana is in order.

Documentation, the lack thereof…

Throughout the years, my grandmother and I have had many conversations about family. She was a walking encyclopedia when it came to her and her husband’s family. She remembered dates, maiden names, kids’ names, where people lived, and sometimes, she even offered details about the ghosts many would have preferred to keep in the closet.

My grandma was born to Gladys Kelley and Chet Adamson. Gladys died when my grandma was only 10-years-old. You may think my grandmother too young to know anything about her mom and her family, but you would be wrong. She knew all her aunts and uncles, grandparents, everyone’s spouses, children and sometimes even their children’s children. My grandma’s memory was sharp until the day she died, in 2004.

That’s why, when I asked my grandmother if her mother had a middle name and she told me “no,” I believed her. And I still do! If anyone would know Gladys’s name, I would think her own daughter would. She knew details of her mother, remembered the twin sisters who were born and died just hours old. Grandma described her twin sisters in their caskets, the little white dresses they wore. She knew their names. She was 4-years-old. Years later, she replaced the headstone at her twin sisters’ grave. She didn’t want them forgotten. A couple years before my grandma died, I had her show me where the gravesite was.

When she was 8-years-old her mother died. She recounted the last time she saw her mother before they took her away – never to be seen again. She, standing on the sidewalk holding her 6-year-old brother’s hand, as they watched them load their mother onto the bus. A few months later, there was this: GladysKelleyGravestone

Because of this “K” on this gravestone, one of Gladys’s sister’s granddaughter’s believes the K stood for Katheryn – at least that’s what I believe. This woman has stories of how they called her “Aunt Kate.” I’m not sure how this panned out, beings how “Aunt Kate” was dead before this sister’s granddaughter was born. And, as with most inaccurate information, it’s posted on several genealogy sites for people to share. And share they do, without an ounce of documentation to prove it. There is nothing to disprove it either, except for the fact that there is not one piece of evidence stating she had a middle name.

The people who have taken this information and shared it by means of public trees should probably watch who they hitch their wagon to. As with the initial K, they also believe since she lived in Grant County, Indiana, and is buried in Grant County, Indiana, that she also died there as well. However, again, there is no documentation proving this. I, on the other hand, relied on my grandmother’s information – the same information of her mother’s name – and know where she died and have the documentation to prove it. I have made contact with the distant family member who claims my great-grandmother as her “Aunt Kate.” She is steadfast in her belief. I’m betting there’s another Aunt Kate in her memory bank, buried. She most likely saw the “K” on this headstone and thought, “Oh, that’s Aunt Katie!” I can see how it can easily happen. But when someone, a direct descendant approaches you with information, do you reject it even if you can’t prove it?

I, too, was born without a middle name. I’ve taken my maiden name and use it, at times as a middle name / initial. If I have it put on my stone, I wonder who will refer to me as Aunt Dodo.

It seems I have a small burr up my… I have the information of her death place, and I am the only one with that information. Knowing what I do, will I share it?

Would you?

 

Reunions and Genealogy…

Several years ago, I decided to plan a reunion for my husband’s father’s family. After talking to my father-in-law about his people for genealogy’s sake and learning they’d not been together for many years I took it upon myself to get the peeps together. Luckily, once others found out about it they offered to help.

My husband’s great-grandfather, Jerry Fager, was the sheriff of Miami County, Indiana for several terms. He and his wife, Letta Grandstaff Fager, were the parents of five children. It was their offspring who where invited to the reunion.

Before the invitations were sent, I had to find out where all these folks lived so that we could actually send the invitations. During that process, I was also searching for family information and old photos. It seemed no one knew where Jerry Fager’s father (Edwin S. Fager) was buried, nor did they know Jerry’s grandfather’s name or his final resting place.

Jerry and Letta (Grandstaff) Fager Wedding

Jerry Fager and Letta Grandstaff’s wedding photo. 1905 Indiana

This wedding photo that had been in my husband’s aunt’s possession knocked the socks off everyone at the reunion. It was unknown to his aunt who was in this photo, but she shared it knowing it had to be family. After looking at several other youthful photos of Jerry and Letta, it was determined to be them. A lesson here is NEVER throw away those old, unknown photos. You are ultimately throwing away someone’s history, and it could very well be your own.

During my quest for addresses and photos, I found myself driving several counties away to make copies of photos. EdwinAndSarahWallsFagerWhile in these other counties, which were known to have family living within the boundaries, I checked with health departments for death certificates on Jerry’s father. In one day, I traveled to five different counties only to come up empty handed. I finally called the State health department. The lady on the phone was nothing short of an angel.

She looked up the certificate information and read the information over the phone, after

EdwinSFagerStone

             Converse, Grant, Indiana                  THE epic search ended here. 

I’d explained I had a reunion coming up in a few short weeks. She didn’t charge me a penny. She shared the county where Jerry’s father had died, AND the county where he was buried. I had been close. I was off like a bolt to the cemetery, one where my own family is buried, a different county away. Photos were taken. Now, I needed the next generation back.

The angel at the Indiana Health Department had given me the name of Edwin’s father’s name: Conrad. She had given me where Edwin was born. I contacted the genealogy department for a look-up and received information on Conrad’s burial.

One afternoon after my husband got off work, I announced we needed to drive to Ohio. For a picture. Of a dead person’s grave. “Hey, it’s for YOUR reunion,” I recall saying.

ConradAnnaFagerGrave

I’m not sure if this is the actual photo I took, or if this is one I snagged from a genealogy site, which could have been the actual photo I took in the first place after shared with other family researchers. You know how that works… Either way, it’s the same grave.

We loaded up and hit the interstate. We arrived at our Ohio destination about three hours later, stopped at a pizza joint to ask for directions. Before sundown, we arrived at the cemetery and located the graves. I snapped a few photos of my husband’s 3x-great-grandparents’ graves and a few of the surrounding ones and we were back on the road again. All for a photo. All for a reunion that in all probability would last less time than this particular road-trip.

Was it worth it? Yes. For a few hours that day, family gathered and shared stories and laughter. For some, it would be the last time they would see each other.

Family Rumors and then some…

Remember my friend that I wrote about in the Family Rumor piece – where we found through her father’s side that she was a descendant of a runaway slave who ended up in Wayne County, Indiana? Where we visited, and met my friend’s distant cousin who volunteers at the historic Levi Coffin house? This was through my friend’s father’s side. Bear with me.

During our visit to the Richmond, Wayne County, Indiana area last year, we visited several cemeteries, and visited the New Garden Monthly Meeting where my Quaker ancestors, the Weesners, attended. I had been sifting through Hinshaw’s U.S. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy for quite a long time now, which, if you have Quakers in your line, you’ll find this a handy resource. To literally touch the bricks of this building, where my 5x-great-grandparents worshipped, to walk the grounds they walked nearly 200 years ago, is beyond words. The first records of this monthly meeting date back to 1815.

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New Garden Monthly Meeting, Wayne County, Indiana

The Chester Cemetery located in Wayne County, Indiana, has Michael Weesner buried here. I believe this to be the father of Micajah (married Elizabeth Mendenhall) Weesner (below).

Just recently, I was researching my Weesner line at the Wabash County library. In it, I ran across a familiar name on my friend’s mother’s side. Following a gut feeling, I dug a little deeper and found that not only were my friend and I searching her black roots, we were searching our Quaker roots!  On her mother’s side, she and I connect to Micajah and Elizabeth Mendenhall Weesner.

Here are Micajah (b. 1793, North Carolina) and Elizabeth Mendenhall Weesner grave sites in Wabash County, Indiana.

And so yes, one side of my friend’s family were Quakers who left the slave-holding state of North Carolina who were part of a mass migration to the northern free states, specifically to the town where the “President of the Underground Railroad” Levi Coffin lived. Many slaves traveled the same byways of the Quakers. It’s possible that our Weesners knew her runaway slave William Bush. Yes, I’d say anything’s possible.

Welcome to the family, cousin!

World War, France, and Poppy Cousins

I’ve been busy working on my family tree, but not in the typical sense. Instead of reaching back to see how far I can go, I’ve been pulling the limbs closer to me. It’s been fun connecting with living people! Most of them don’t recall much, if anything, about our ancestors, but there’s always the chance that there may be photographs and stories that ended up with their family line.

What’s been most heartening, is finding family that served in the World Wars. I expected grandparents and great-grandparents. Who would have thought that I would have known someone who actually fought in WWI? Fortunately, my great-grandfather was still living into the mid-70s, my teen years. We never spoke of the events, we didn’t have that kind of relationship. I did speak to one of my grandfathers about WWII. Much like today’s veterans, he was reluctant to talk much.

Our family has been lucky. Most all of the members have come home from the war. There has been very little in the way of disability or death associated with any of our family members. With the exception of a few.

My great-uncle was killed in Texas during a flight training, during WWII. I can’t imagine the heartache my great-grandparents and family suffered. I’ve grown up knowing about this death – how he was brought home, buried nearby. And how his brother, in honor of the deceased, ran off to join the war – leaving his wife and two children behind. Luckily, he returned with nothing more than the scars from his appendicitis.

Poppies_by_Benoit_Aubry_of_OttawaBut while doing the family tree, I learned of another. This man was a WWI private in the US Army, 139th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division. His death date: 28 Sep 1918. He’s buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France. This, the largest American cemetery on foreign soil.

I began a shallow search of the regiment, and was surprised to find the Meuse-Argonne offensive began 26 Sept. 1918 just two days before his death. It is known as the greatest American battle in WWI.

According to http://www.history.com, “…the Meuse-Argonne offensive, carried out by 37 French and American divisions, was even more ambitious. Aiming to cut off the entire German 2nd Army, Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch ordered General John J. Pershing to take overall command of the offensive. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was to play the main attacking role, in what would be the largest American-run offensive of World War I.”

Pvt. Gernie B. Adamson, a first cousin to my great-grandfather Chet Adsmson (also a veteran of the First World War), (and my 1st cousin, 3x removed) was born in Iowa. His father, Berry Adamson, had moved there from Indiana, where the majority of the Adamson family remained. Gernie was 26 years old at the time of his death.

I wonder if his grave is visited by the people of France. I’ve heard stories of the French placing flowers on the graves of American soldiers. I wonder if they use poppies.

In every rumor there’s a bit of truth…

When you need a break from crawling up your own tree and venture out into the forest seeking others’ trees to climb, you know you’re an addict. And that’s not always a bad thing!

Several years ago, a friend of mine (knowing I was a genealogy nut) shared with me a family rumor of her paternal side and she had a name. I tried convincing her to climb her tree, but she wanted no part of it. She wasn’t ready.  After several years passed, and being bored with my own tree and looking for something I could sink my teeth into, I started a tree for her with her help. I shared with her all information gathered, and even at times talked her into joining in on the search. She is also aware that I am writing this. I give you her story:

My friend’s grandmother “R” had married a man, we’ll call him “O,” and had 10 children, all claiming O’s last name. My friend supplied the names of her aunts and uncles, the parents of her grandmother and several others on the matrilineal line. There was, however, a problem.

R’s ten children were born between the years of 1923 – 1946. “O” died in 1935. Enter rumored name.

I plugged in the rumored name. We’ll call him “L.” My friend’s aunt remembered her father, L. Three other children, born after O’s 1935 death, are the assumed children of L, according to family lore. While searching census records, I found Grandma R living a street over from L, backyards touching. Their backyards touched for 20 years.

When my friend asked her grandmother R about said rumored man, all Grandma R would say is that, “he sure was a nice man.” She went to her grave never revealing to her granddaughter anything more about this man. My friend, being a sleuth, began to quietly talk to different members of her father’s family. She began piecing together stories of recent history.

Another family story is that my friend’s dad went up to L one day and asked if L was his father. The young boy was told “no.” My friend asked how a parent could deny themselves to their child.

And here, dear reader, is where things get touchy. L is a black man. R is a white woman. The year is 1938. My friend’s father is born to a city known for its racist views. You see, in August 1930, a lynching was held in this place we call home. Two black youth were beaten and dragged from the county jail – accused of murdering a white man and raping his white girlfriend – and hung from a tree on the courthouse square. The city has, to this day, never fully recovered.

One must understand the historical events leading up to this time. It is my guess, obviously not knowing the man personally, that L’s response to this young boy was one of safety. Safety for R, safety for L, and safety for this young little boy. It may have been one of the biggest acts of love L could have bestowed on his children.

The genealogy search continued for L’s family. Within a few days’ time, his mother, Ruth, was found in the Wayne County, Indiana census. She eventually found herself in Grant County, living in Weaver, a noted early black community in Indiana. All of the dots were connecting. Ruth’s father, according to the 1850 census was William Bush, a blacksmith born about 1804 in North Carolina. 1850 is the first record I find of him being in Indiana. I was finding nothing else until…

I went to work the following day. We had just received a new edition of Outdoor Indiana magazine. Having a strong interest in history, I turned to the featured story on the Levi Coffin Historical Site.

I opened the magazine and read the article’s first line, “William Bush arrived in Indiana in a wooden box shipped from North Carolina. That’s one version of his escape from slavery…the story goes that abolitionist Levi Coffin received the box at his Wayne County home and gave its cargo the surname ‘Bush’ because of the beard that grew on William’s face during transit.” My eyes bulged. In somewhat disbelief, I reread the opening paragraph. The story goes on to tell of him being a successful blacksmith; that he arrived in Newport, Indiana (Now known as Fountain City) sometime between 1840 – 1850. All of this matched what I had found on my friend’s William Bush. Included in the article is a photo of his great-great-granddaughter, a volunteer at the Levi Coffin House, holding a pair of wooden shoes – shoes William Bush wore while blacksmithing so not to burn his feet. Those shoes, we later learned, were donated to the Levi Coffin House by the volunteer’s great-aunt.

I called my friend, and texted her a photo of the article.  Some weeks before she had  submitted her DNA sample to Ancestry.com, seeking ethnicity information.  We continued to make visits to the local library gathering any and all information we could on the family. We visited local burial sites, walking row after row of graves.

My friend's grandfather, L.

My friend’s grandfather, L.

We visited and interviewed her family members (with the exception of her father; it seems he wants nothing to do with this family for reasons of his own). Her aunt shared a photograph. My friend’s sister found a photo album at their dad’s that had originally belonged to Grandma R. In it… a different photo of the same man, L.

One evening as we left the library, we sat in the parking lot going over the day’s findings. She decided to check her email and in came the results of her DNA test, as if on cue. Fully expecting the results she received, it did nothing but confirm the family rumors – a genetic link to the Ivory Coast.

A phone call was placed to the Levi Coffin House with a message for William Bush’s great-great-granddaughter, Eileen. After making contact with her, a meeting was planned for the two great-great-granddaughters at the Levi Coffin House.

The two great-great-granddaughters of William Bush meet for the first time. In the case are William's wooden shoes.

The two great-great-granddaughters of William Bush meet for the first time. In the case are William’s wooden shoes.

I was privileged to be invited to this mini-reunion of family. Eileen was a gracious hostess. We received a tour of the Levi Coffin House and grounds. We visited with Eileen at her home until the wee hours of the night going over family tree information and family photos.

The next morning, we toured several cemeteries, one being where William Bush is buried. So far, we have been unable to locate the burial place of his wife, Charlotte. According to census information, she was a free black woman who came to Indiana around the same time as William. We traveled to several Quaker cemeteries, searching for my own family who moved through Wayne County, and who most likely knew William Bush and his family. Odd that my friend and I, the descendants of these folks in Wayne County, would end up friends in another county, all these decades later.

In what started as a family hushed-truth, new beginnings emerge. The descendants of William and Charlotte Bush have gathered for a family reunion. They share family photos, stories, and the desire to know their roots.

I must say it’s been a pleasure to have been a part of this story, watching it unfold, dots connecting to dots, people of seemingly different races coming together, ultimately as one. All because of a little family rumor.