52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – HALFWAY

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess  (1829-1905)

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910)
August Yess
(1829-1905)

This week marks the halfway point in my 52 Ancestors Challenge and the theme is appropriately halfway.  A suggested twist on the theme was to discuss an ancestor who you feel you have only halfway researched.  With much thought, I decided to further discuss my 2nd great grandfather, August Yess.

Here’s what I do know:  August Yess, as he was known in Peoria, IL, was born 29 January 1829 in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. We believe he immigrated to America via Baltimore, Maryland in 1852.  In 1855, he married Teresa A. Hanlach, also originally from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.  They had six children: Charles, Mary, William, Amanda, Joseph and John.  August died in 1905 and Teresa died in 1910.

I feel I only know half his story because Yess  cannot be his true surname.  Yess is not a German surname.  Much like many Germans who immigrated to the United States, the spelling of their surname was changed. Naturalization papers from 29 October 1892, show August Gess becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States.   He would have been 63 years old at the time and had lived in the U.S. for a length of 40 years.  Why did he suddenly feel the need to become a naturalized citizen after 40 years?

August was only 23 years old when he came to America.  I don’t know why he immigrated here, but I have learned a lot about Germany at the time from an Latter Day Saints genealogist who specializes in Germany.  King William and Baden were in upheaval during the 1850’s and he subsequently lost power to his son, Charles.  The political upheaval led to military action which led to emigration of many Germans.  Economic pressure also caused many Germans to emigrate to the United States.  Was it military servitude or no money that caused August to leave?

I don’t know anything about his family.  I haven’t successfully found records indicating who his parents were, how many siblings he had, where exactly was his home?  Funny how these pieces to the puzzle tell so much about an individual.  Without these important components, one can only speculate on motive.

I don’t know if he came to the United States with any funds at all. Records did indicate he worked as a teamster for a time in Peoria County, Illinois after he immigrated.  He also owned quite a bit of farmland in Jubilee Township of Peoria County, Illinois near the Princeville area.  The Yess family still lives on Yess Road near Princeville.  I do know upon his death, August had amassed quite a bit of money and land.  Peoria County, Illinois probate records indicate he had 15 different Certificates of Deposits in five different banks; three different personal loans he held from individuals, and rent due from a piece of real estate identified as “No. 1311 First Street” – town unknown,  another listed as “H.A. Tuttle house” and “Lynch house” and various farms.

In total, August Yess or Gess of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany was worth $19,983 in 1905 which would be worth nearly $540,000 in 2015.  How did he purchase so much land, so many city lots and collect so much money?  It’s going to require more research. Below are a just a very few of the probate records I have for August Yess.

August Yess Probate File Page 1

August Yess Probate File Page 1

August Yess Probate File Page 2

August Yess Probate File Page 2

August Yess Probate File Page 3

August Yess Probate File Page 3

August Yess Probate File Pg 4

August Yess Probate File Pg 4

Halfway through the year with 52 Ancestors Challenge and I am compiling a list titled “I Want To Know”.  #1 on this list will start with August Yess/Gess family history.  In order to learn some of this information, I’ve decided to take the next step and study German at my university this fall.  I don’t expect to become a phenom at it or a native speaker, but I do hope to be able to understand some of the basic documents I attempt to read.  I’m hoping if I meet August halfway by learning German, he will disclose more information as a thanks.

Knowing only half his story is like viewing a two dimensional photograph and attempting to see a three dimensional person.  There are too many missing details.  It’s time to fill in the details.

August Yess -Probate-List of Assets and Notes pg 1

August Yess -Probate-List of Assets and Notes pg 1

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 2

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 2

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 3

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 3

52 Ancestors Challenge – The Old Homestead

William and Martha Chenoweth home, Hickory Grove area, Farmers Twp. Fulton Cty, IL

William and Martha Chenoweth home, Hickory Grove area, Farmers Twp. Fulton Cty, IL

Elias Chenoweth home in Table Grove.

Elias Chenoweth home in Table Grove.

Vera KC and Dean

Elzie and Vera Chenoweth homestead on West Adams Road, Macomb, IL

It could be called a dwelling, a domicile, a house or a residence, but when we call something a home we invoke emotions of comfort food, family, holidays and warm feelings.  Home is an emotionally loaded word.  My genealogical searches are scattered with homes that lead a path from Germany, England, France to Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, South Carolina, Illinois and on to Kansas.  All those houses were homes to part of my family.  I hope to share next week the story of another home in our family that holds special feelings, but for this week I want to share these three homesteads.

The homestead at the top is the William and Martha Chenoweth homestead.  The farm and house no longer exist.  They were destroyed the federal government to make way for Camp Ellis in 1942 during the war effort.  William and Martha Chenoweth moved there sometime in the 1850s with their children.  William and Martha were my 3rd great grandparents, both born in Ohio, married in Indiana and died in Illinois.  The family in the picture is that of their son, Elias Chenoweth, his wife Permelia Jane Ellis Chenoweth and their children.  Martha Chenoweth appears in this photo so it most likely was taken after William’s death in 1884 and obviously before Martha’s in 1898. Five generations of my family had, at one time or another, lived on this homestead.  I’ve had my dad sketch out the layout of the farm.  He placed the buildings, house, orchards, lane, sawmill and everything on the map to give us perspective as well as leave a record.

The stories of this homestead weave a very interesting tapestry.  Dad climbed the windmill on this farm when he was only two years old.  My grandmother coaxed him down after awhile and Dad still remembers watching the blades rotate on the windmill.  He later became a pilot and I always wonder if that wasn’t the precursor to his love of flying.

The house had a second story covered porch above the kitchen window. Dad and his brother,  K.C. Chenoweth, thought it would be great fun to make parachutes for cats.  They attached the handkerchiefs to the cats and dropped them from the upstairs porch. The fun came to a quick end when Grandma suddenly saw a cat dropping past the kitchen window while she was baking.  The parachutes didn’t impress her!

One of the barns on the farm was a design called a “bank barn”.  The barn was built into the bank and had buttresses to keep the lower wall from pushing out.  The buttresses were made of concrete and very rough.  Dad and Uncle K.C. thought sliding down the buttresses would be a great recreational activity, but they tried it with new blue jeans on.  Again, Grandma was less than impressed with their decision making!

When my Grandpa Elzie was a young man and living in this home, his brother came home a little too late one winter evening.  He thought he had successfully sneaked into the house without tipping his hat.  Uncle Arthur was cold though and he stirred up the stove to warm himself up. Apparently he was a little too good at stirring up the fire as a chimney fire broke out and gave away the secret of his late arrival.

The old homestead was full of so many stories and memories and I’m sorry the only way I got to see it was through the mind’s eye of my family members.

The second home, Elias and Permelia Chenoweth’s new home in Table Grove, IL was quiet impressive. Elias, my 2nd great grandfather, is shown standing in the yard with his daughter.  He was a conservative man when it came to business dealings and from what I have read, was pretty humble.  A fire broke out in the house not long after it was built.  Elias and Permelia survived the fire, but never rebuilt the house. Permelia felt the fire was God’s way of telling them they were too proud of the home.  Story is there is an identical home to it still surviving in Table Grove; both built at the same time.  This picture was taken sometime prior to his death in 1915.  Permelia died in 1911. Most likely this photo predates her death also.  It looks to be a beautiful house and with my love of old houses, I surely would have liked to see the details of it.

The third home was that of my grandparents, Elzie and Vera Chenoweth, west of Macomb, IL.  This is the house my dad and uncle moved to when they were young boys and where they lived until they were married.  My dad and mom moved to this house in 1968 until August of 1970 while they were building a new house. Grandpa and Grandma’s house was very special. I can close my eyes and still see the built in glass-doored bookcases, the beautiful wooden stairs, the secret upstairs porch and the attic that seemed to hold many magical things.  This is the home I remember going to for Christmas and sleeping upstairs in the big feather bed with my sister and cousins.  This home always smelled of freshly baked cookies, homemade noodles and beef.  It felt and looked like love.

Houses are simply dwellings; wood, brick or other material bound together to provide shelter.  Homes are magical places where families share the joys and sorrows of life with one another.  If only the walls could talk then the stories we have wouldn’t be limited to those we managed to write down.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Heirloom

“The most treasured heirlooms are the sweet memories of our family that we pass down to our children.”  Unknown 

Quilt block of Nona Salmans Foreman

Quilt block of Nona Salmans Foreman

Friendship Quilt of Lena Belle Salmans

Friendship Quilt of Lena Belle Salmans

IMG_0279

It wasn’t the most stunning or fancy quilt I had ever seen, but it had the sweetest story surrounding it like the arms of a loving grandmother.  I seem to remember this handmade quilt on one of the spare beds at Grandma’s house.  It was only used when my sister, cousins and I  came to visit.  I’m not even sure at what point I asked her about the story of the quilt, but Grandma Vera Chenoweth shared it.

The handmade “signature” block quilt had embroidered on each block the name or signature of a different family member in Kansas.  In my last post – titled Wedding – you’ll recall I told the story about my Grandma Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake and how she suddenly moved, with her family, back to Illinois after her mother-in-law’s death.  This was Grandma Belle’s quilt.  Grandma Vera told me she remembers her mother putting the quilt together when she was a child.  Grandma Vera married in 1921 so this memory had to be from an early time.

Grandma Vera was always very practiced in “hand” skills.  He should crotchet, tat and sew with the best. She was no slouch when it came to sewing. She had asked her mother if she could help piece the blocks of the quilt together and help hand-sew the quilting stitches.  She said her mother smiled and said, “No, thank you. This is how I visit with my sisters and family.”  It seemed when she picked up each block, she thought of her sisters and nieces in Kansas. It had to be difficult to be so far away from her very close family.  The remaining siblings all lived near each other in Kansas. Grandma Lena Belle was the only child to move away.  Her quilt was much like a “prayer quilt” to her.  Each time she touched the blocks, she thought of or prayed for the family member.

The quilt has survived what has to be approaching 100 years.  It still seems very mystical to me.  I love to look closely at each block and divine the true personality of the owner.  Some were much more fancy than others; some were simple and plain in light colors. Others probably have hidden meanings long ago lost much like symbols on tombstones.  When I touch it, I see the loving hands of a great grandmother I never met, but know a lot about.  The stories I have been told about her keep her very much alive and this quilt rests on her lap while she carefully stitches each block together with sad, longing eyes and nimble fingers.

52 Ancestors’ Challenge – Wedding

Ed and Lena France Wedding Day_small

He was 29 and a bachelor who had moved to Kansas to take advantage of what was thought to be a better environment for his health.  She was 18, the third oldest daughter of a family of ten.  She had lost her mother in December of 1888 due to childbirth and now was taking in laundry and baking for bachelors in the neighborhood.  Her next oldest sister had been married just a year before while Mother was still living.  Belle was not so lucky.  She was not married until after her own mother’s death.  Thomas Edward France and Lena Belle Salmans were married on the 17th day of February 1889 most likely in Larned, KS.  The photo above was of their wedding day.

After living in Kansas for nine and a half years, Ed and Belle made their way back to Illinois to attend Ed’s mother’s funeral.  Lavina Clanin France had died at the age of 60 years.  Ed’s father, John, was still living in Fulton County, Illinois.  Ed and Belle had two living children by this time.  Lola was born in 1890 and Lee was born in 1892.  An infant daughter had died in 1895.  Ed, Belle, Lola and Lee supposedly took the train back to Illinois.  Once there, John France asked Ed and Belle to remain in Fulton County and set up housekeeping in his house.  He was 63 years old and didn’t want to keep house by himself.

It was well past six months before Belle could return to Kansas to bring back their things and say goodbye to her family.  The remaining nine Salmans siblings all lived in Kansas until their deaths.  Belle would never return to live there, but merely to visit her siblings.Two more children were born to Ed and Belle – two daughters – Essie in 1899 and Vera in 1902, but their son Lee died in 1906 of pneumonia breaking his parents’ hearts.

At the age of 51, Ed succumbed to pneumonia and died in 1910. It’s hard to say if abiding by his father’s request to move back to Illinois actually caused his demise.  Breathing issues are what had prompted his move west in the first place. Nevertheless, Belle was left with a farm, a father-in-law, and four children to care for.  Her daughter Vera often commented on Belle’s industrious nature and “farming” intelligence.  She was well known for the quality of her horses.  She managed the farm and put her share of physical labor into it with the help of a hired man, Milton Westlake.  Westlake was a widow also and worked for Belle for five years before they finally married in 1915.

Westlake, Milt & Lena Belle Salmans France

December 8, 1915 Milton A. Westlake and Lena Belle Salmans France married, both for the second time. Belle was 45 years old at the time of her second marriage; Milt was 47.  They were together for 31 years until Belle’s death.

She looks very proper in her first wedding photo.  She was only 19 at the time of her wedding and the world had no doubt weighed heavy on her shoulders.  She looks very happy in her second wedding picture.  Her children were grown, She had moved from Kansas to the France farm in Fulton County, IL and then moved again when the government bought her farm for an army camp.  Her life was ever-evolving.  She was a pioneer in more than one way during her life, yet she seemed to embrace the happiness of a new marriage and a new companion later in life.

it would be interesting to hear how different her thoughts were at her wedding at age 19 and her wedding at age 46.  What comparisons and contrasts could she provide.  What perspectives on life could she offer.  I hope to get to ask her someday in the Great Beyond.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Commencement

COMMENCEMENT – the act or instance of commencing; beginning.

Eliza Jane Hulvey (b:5 April 1832  d:25 March 1885) was the 13th and last child born to Philip and Amelia (Walters) Hulvey of Augusta County, Virginia.  She is my 3rd great grandmother and she is wrapped up in beginnings and endings.  She ultimately had to face a commencement any woman who is a mother knows would be the last scenario you could withstand.  Indulge me while I tell her somewhat complicated story.

John Sheets WhiteA marriage license was issued on 24 August 1854 for Eliza Jane Hulvey and John Sheets White.  Eliza and John were both 22 years old at the time.  However, their first child is listed with a birthdate in 1853.  Did they not apply for the actual license till much after the ceremony was performed? That question is yet to be answered.

John Sheets White

Their children were Mary Agnes White (b. 1853), an infant that died at birth in 1855, John Newton Ellisander White (b. 1856), James William White (b. 1857), Pricilla Emma White (b 1858) and Della Margaret White (b. 1860).  Della was my 2nd great grandmother.

According to the book Hulvey Clan Historical Ties by Velma June Good Hulvey, (p. 301) “They left Virginia and lived for a short time in Ohio.”  But family documents show John Sheets White listed as a Prisoner of War on September 27, 1862 after the Battle of Antietam during the US Civil War. The Battle of Antietam was held September 17, 1862.

Oath of Allegiance Eliza Jane Hulvey White

Oath of Allegiance Eliza Jane Hulvey White

However, family records also show Eliza and the five oldest children were in Ohio during this same time period when they contracted diptheria.  Legend has it an Indian woman nursed the family during their awful illness. Unfortunately, the four oldest children — Mary Agnes, John Newton Ellisander, James William and Pricilla Emma — all died from diptheria between the 2nd and 9th of September 1862. Only Della Margaret, the youngest and Eliza, her mother survived.  Eliza went from having a family of five children and a husband, to a woman who was unsure where her husband was during the war and a mother who had lost four children.

Records don’t help to bring this story into focus, though.  We only know that on 25th September of 1863, Eliza and two small children were given an Army pass to travel to Winchester, Virginia.  Della would have been one of the children.  The next child born was Elly Walters White (b. 1861 d. 1865).  If Elly was born in 1861, why was he not with Eliza and the other children when they contracted diptheria?

The next record shows a pass in October of 1863 at Martinsburg, VA for Miss L. White on B & R Railroad good for one day only.  An Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America accompanies the pass she received.  The Oath describes her as “Age: 29, Height: 5 ft. 3, Complexion: dark, Eyes:blue, Hair:brown”.

Not long after this John and Eliza must have been reunited as Robert Franklin White was born in August of 1864. By 1877, five more daughters and one son were born to John and Eliza.  Their family moved to Illinois where they would someday be buried.

The gaps in the records are still to be filled, but we know Eliza ultimately gave birth to 14 children in 23 years.  The first four children died of diptheria.  Della, the youngest at the time, survived to become the oldest of the remaining eight children who reached adulthood.  The end of the Civil War was the beginning of a new life for Eliza and John where their family would set down roots and continue to grow.  The commencement of a new life for her was not without its pain.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Military

Memorial Day is a genealogist’s Christmas, truly.  It’s a time when we honor our ancestors by decorating their graves and also a very important time to recognize our military.  The day was established after the Civil War to honor the dead.  I struggled with this weekly theme.  Both of my uncles (my mom’s brother and my dad’s brother) served in the United States Army. My own dad served in the National Guard, but my grandparents, Elzie and Vera Chenoweth, made a great sacrifice in the name of military also.  They served in a unique way.

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

In 1981 I convinced my Grandma Vera Chenoweth to dictate the story to me of their farm and what happened when a military camp came into the neighborhood.  Fortunately it was printed in a lovely book titled, “Tales of Two Rivers II”, published by the Two Rivers Arts Council and Western Illinois University’s College of Fine Arts Development.  Rather than write my interpretation of the events, I decided to go back to the primary source and let Grandma tell the story.  So I present to you, from my Grandmother Vera Viola France Chenoweth, the following story — “US Was Written on the Cars”

It started in the spring of 1941. We would see strange cars going up and down the road.  Some of our neighbors said they saw “US” written on the cars.  This went on all summer and we all passed anything we heard back and forth. The in the fall, we saw men surveying for the roads and the sewers that ran under the roads. But you couldn’t get anything out of those guys.  They wouldn’t tell you anything.  Then one day, Elzie (my grandfather, Elzie Chenoweth — pictured above) went to bale hay at the neighbors, and he told everyone that he’d heard we were going to get a camp because he’d seen them unloading cats.  Well, everybody thought he meant “Cat” tractors, bulldozers, but after they questioned him, he jokingly said it was “tomcats”. 

Next thing, those men came to our house and asked Elzie to walk the farm with them.  They’d asked different questions and every once in a while, they’d scribble something down, but they wouldn’t tell anything either.

By the Spring of 1942, we had rented a Macomb farm, afraid they’d build the camp and we wouldn’t have any place to go.  Then we saw water towers being built between Ipava and Table Grove.We’d get up to milk in the morning, and we’d see the lights over by the water towers where they were working.  Then they started building some long storage sheds, and by September, the government had purchased 8,500 acres of surrounding farmland.  By the 10th of September, before the corn had even matured, they brought in bulldozers and plowed up the fields, corn and all, and were getting it ready for building.

We got a notice on February 1, 1943, that we had to be off our farm by March 1, 1943 — a month from then. We didn’t now where we were going to be.  So we had a sale.  Our sale was on Friday, February 26th. Things sold well.  People came from everywhere, because all the neighbors had to sellout, too.  We had a rubber-tired truck, built for us by Cecil Wright for $65 early in the year, and it sold for $200.  Woven wire fences went for $1 a rod.  We had to get our hay and straw out of the barns, because they were going to tear them down.  On Saturday, the 27th of February, one day after our sale, we had read bad weather, a blizzard.  We had planned to move that day, but didn’t know what to do.  Our boys weren’t old enough to help a lot.  Our oldest son was only twelve.  But Elzie’s brother and Oliver Smith came and helped us move that day to Macomb.  On Sunday, the government workers were in, tearing down our barns and letting the boards fall on our horses and tractor that we didn’t have moved yet.  

While it was going on, lots of newspaper men came in to do stories on the new camp. People in Macomb thought it was great. I was going to improve business for them.  Everyone around us told us to fight it, but we went to Illiopolis, and talked to them and decided it wouldn’t do any good; just one man fighting the government. 

When we were moving, it was every neighbor for himself.  Normally neighbors would hep each other, but all of us were moving.  Some folks closed up farming; some went to farm somewhere else.

On July 4, 1943, they had an open house at Camp Ellis.  They said there were 8,000 soldiers at the camp … on land that used to belong to us and our neighbors.

There are a few notes I need to add to Grandma’s writing. 

  1. First, my Grandpa Elzie was a big joker, so it was not surprising to hear he had tricked the neighbors with his cat joke.
  2. Cities mentioned in this article are all in Illinois . Macomb is in McDonough County.  Table Grove and Ipava are in Fulton County.  Illiopolis is near Springfield, IL.
  3. When Grandma mentions the neighbors, she is really talking about her extended family.  The Chenoweth and France family had lived and owned farm land in this neighborhood since the 1850’s. My father was the 5th generation to live in the house on the farm. The house was torn down when the camp came in.
  4. “Elzie’s brother” refers to Harry Chenoweth.  Oliver Smith was a cousin to Elzie on his mother’s side. Oliver Smith’s wife was Mazie Swise Smith. Grandpa Elzie’s mother was Dolly Swise Chenoweth.  Mazie and Dollie were sisters, however, Oliver was the same age as Grandpa Elzie — Dollie’s son.
  5. My grandparents purchased a farm near Macomb using the good word of the Table Grove, IL bank and the promise of the federal government to later pay them for the land.  In 1968, Grandpa and Grandma retired and moved into the city of Macomb to live — some 25 years after having to leave the original farm.

The most important part of this story was one I lived – it was the example my grandparents gave us.  Grandpa Elzie died at the age of 88; Grandma died at 93.  In all the years I had shared with them (25 with Grandpa and 34 with Grandma), I never once heard them speak with anger or bitterness over having lost the farm to the government.  This was war time — World War II.  Their cousins and neighbors were losing sons.  They would lose their hired man in France several days after D Day.  I distinctly remember Grandma saying they felt it was their duty to help in the war effort by giving up the land. Through their example of patriotism and sacrifice, I consider this the way my grandparents served in the military.  On this Memorial Day Weekend, please remember those who have served our country whether it be in uniform or in support of those in uniform.  God Bless America.

The Patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s Tree.  Thomas Campbell.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – Black Sheep

Cultures embrace naming traditions for family members.  In the U.S. colonies the oldest son would inherit the family estate. To make the connection easier, those first sons were named after their fathers.  Second sons were named after their father’s brothers — most likely the father’s oldest brother.  Middle names were either the mother’s maiden name or the grandmother’s maiden name.

In Scotland, the oldest son would be named for the father’s father; second son for mother’s father.  First daughters were often named after their mother’s mother; second daughters named after their father’s mother.  This pattern led to many repeated names.

In my France family, name repitition is very prevalent.  There is Michael France, Michael France Jr, Thomas Henry France, Thomas Henry H. France, Thomas H. A. France, John H. France and John Lee France.  The branches of this tree cross back and forth leaving angry brambles for any genealogist to untangle.  Such was the task I conquered with the help of my paternal grandmother.  Pruning away at the branches led to the discovery of one of our family’s black sheep.  I’m not naive enough to think he was the only, but discovering the black sheep is not easy with generations of people who lived by the adage “Thou shall not speak ill of the dead.”  Frankly, finding some of these individuals would make my stories more interesting!

John France was the son of Michael France (1776-1867) and Rebecca Henry.  I’ve written about Michael previously as he was a War of 1812 veteran.  This particular John France was my 3rd great grand uncle. A rather grand title for the black sheep of the family.  He was a brother to my 3rd great grandfather (Thomas Henry A. France) and I suspect my 2nd great grandfather’s namesake (John Lee France 1835-1917).  I warned you this wouldn’t be easy to explain.

Third great grand uncle John France married Malinda Craigo in 1827 in Clermont County, OH.  She DIVORCED him on March 25, 1857 in Fulton County, Illinois thirty years after having moved their family west.  Records show she had started the divorce proceedings in October of 1856 and had seven witnesses including two brothers-in-law (Samuel Farr & Hosea Parvin) and one nephew (Hosea France) who testified on her behalf.  Witnesses backed up her story that John had cut her with a hatchet!  He was sentenced to four years in prison, but was pardoned for some unrecorded reason. Ten years later John  married Thomas Brown’s widow, Lucy Beckelhymer Brown.

Some family stories state John was a Black Hawk War veteran having served under Capt. John Sain.  To this point I have not found official records indicating so. Only an application for a pension remains.

As for John’s attack of Malinda, maybe he suffered what we now call PTSD.  Perhaps the strain of war caused him to snap and attack his wife. The only published family story I find of him has the usual embellishments….”He was a farmer who came to the county with no means but acquired competence..”  Obviously it didn’t mention Malinda and the hatchet!

For every black sheep in the family, there is another member who upheld the family honor and actually, John and Malinda’s sons did redeem the family.  Wesley L. France honorably served as a private in Co. A of the 28th Illinois Regiment in the US Civil War and was killed at Natchez, MS in 1864.  Their son Michael died in 1864 while serving in the Civil War.

In regard to being the black sheep of the family, well, even the wool of a black sheep is needed to weave a colorful tapestry of family history. I say embrace them and be glad we have their colorful stories to tell.  The documents they left behind do help us trace the family a little easier.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – There’s a Way

Veronica “Faroneka” Sophronia Bootz  – if that really was the correct spelling of her name, was my 2nd great grandmother.  She has always been an enigma.  German-born with a German last name, although again I suspect it is incorrectly spelled on documents in the United States, she insisted my 2nd great grandfather Johann Bernard Schmitt Anglicize his name before she would marry him.  He became John Bernard Smith.  It was 1856 in Peoria County, Illinois when they married.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

She is one of those story puzzles you work on in 3rd grade where several words are missing from sentences and you have to guess what will complete the story.  At this point, I don’t have the missing words to fill in much.  What I do know was she found a way  –  a way to leave Hesse-Darmstedt, Germany with one of her brothers, Peter,  and sister, Elizabeth, to avoid a physically abusive relationship with their father.

Family records are usually homogenized. If the victors of war write the histories, then the most politically-correct Casper Milquetoast individual must be the writer of family stories.  They are usually sugar-coated and boring. “George Edward was born in 1801, the third of five children….”  The truly interesting and rich family histories are those that reveal what life was really like –  REALLY like.

Fortunately some of those stories remain in the form of family letters written to an uncle in Peoria, IL.  For many years they were unreadable to my uni-lingual family.  We understand English and a few smattering of words from high school French and Spanish.  These letters were written in Old German- I don’t recall if it was Low German or High German.  A German professor at the nearby university translated them for my mother back in the late 1970s.  When we read the translation, we were stunned with the revelations disclosed to the uncle by Peter.  He blatantly states he and his sisters desire to come to the United States and live with their uncle as their father regularly beat them.  If you read between the lines it was obvious the uncle in the U.S. was well aware of it, but was much more kind to his nieces and nephews.  So physical abuse by their father – and the desire to see the United States and prosper in the new country led to a pleading letter.  There were a precious few letters between the two men.  Our family is not even sure why we have possession of them, but fortunately we do.

Peter, Elizabeth and Veronika Bootz found their way out of Germany and out of physical oppression at the hand of their father.  They found a way to get to Peoria, Illinois.  Veronika found Johann Bernard Schmitt and married him, soon to become Mrs. John Smith.   How ironic the brutal reality of their family letters wove a complicated tale about family relationships that was anything but simple or homogenized.  Yet, when she married and adopted the American spelling of her husband’s name, she became any other “Mrs. John Smith” in America.

She found a way to slip into the shadows of the new country perhaps to hide her abusive past.  Leaving the old country was not always about finding new found riches or abundant land, sometimes it was about blending in to the background or escaping your terrible past.  Most important was in a time when women had little decisions to make on their own and were often victims of their circumstances, Veronika and Elizabeth along with Peter found a way.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Where’s There’s a Will

It was familiar, it was local and it was hiding a family secret.  Not only had I lived near Western Illinois University my whole life, but I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the institution. I had visited the Leslie Malpass Library numerous times. Teachers do LOVE homework and especially homework with research.  Research leads to libraries.  Libraries HIDE archives….well, not literally, but most people don’t think to check them out.

The Illinois Regional Archives Depository, better known as IRAD, is located on seven different state university campuses in Illinois. (Yes, we did get this thing right as well as claiming Abraham Lincoln.) IRADs hold archival documents for the state, which include birth, marriage and death records, county board proceedings, land deeds, mortgages and tax sales as well as probate records.  Probate records – right there under my nose – on the sixth floor of the building where I was researching the impact of recreation facilities on students in higher education. Secrets are always kept in the attic.  Every child knows if you want to find Grandma’s good stuff, go to the attic.  You’ll find her flapper dress from the 1920’s or flower power child picture of her from the 1960’s.  You’ll find your parents report cards, 4-H records and school yearbooks in attics. Your mom’s favorite doll, your dad’s favorite toy car and baseball glove in the attic. The items that tell our family stories are stored in attics…or on the sixth floor of the Western Illinois University library in IRAD!

By chance, I went to the IRAD and was interested in the Peoria County, Illinois records they had.  I was actually looking for information on my 2nd great grandfather and grandmother, August and Theresa Yess, but what happened “leafed out” the branch of our family tree instead. My maternal grandmother’s family were English (Harrison) and German (Schmitt).  The Harrisons were prolific collectors of family history. Must be something English.  The Schmitts or Shmitts or Smiths only had a little information.  We knew they had come to Peoria, IL from Germany.  We knew their names were Johann Bernard Schmitt and Veronika “Sophronia” Bootz and we knew they would later own ground in Jubilee Township, Peoria County, Illinois. We knew their children’s names. There was little more than that to fill out the branches.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

This is where the “attic” on the sixth floor of Leslie Malpass Library came into play.  I asked in IRAD if they had any records for the name Bootz or Schmitt or Shmitt. (The last had to be a made-up spelling as that is not a combination of letters in German that are used – the “h” and “m” together.) Suddenly the lady returned with a legal-sized folder full of papers  – probate records.  This is the gold mine I found.

WILL OF JOHN B. SCHMITT In the name of God, Amen, I John B. Schmitt of the Town of Jubilee in the County of Peoria and State of Illinois of the age of 56 years and being of sound mind and memory do make publish and declare this my last Will and Testament in the manner following that in to say: FIRST: I give and bequeath to my wife, Veronica Schmitt all my possessions, both real and personal of what kind so ever together with all the appurtenances thereunto belonging to have and to hold for use and benefit during the term of her Natural life Time.

SECOND: At the Death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, I give and Bequeath to my Son, William Wallace Schmitt all the piece or parcals of Lands as followes – the North West quarter of Section Eleven together with the West half of South West quarter of Section Eleven all in Township Ten North Six East of the fourth principle Merridian. Together with all the hereditaments ad appurtenances thereunto belonging to have and to hold the premises above described to the said William Wallace Schmitt his Heirs and assigns forever.

THIRD: At the death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, I give an Bequeath to my son, George Schmitt, all pieces or pracals of Lands as followes – the North East quarter of Section Eleven and the East Half of South West quarter of Section Eleven to hold the premises above described with all the hereditaments and impertinences thereunto belonging to him the said, George Schmitt, his heirs and assignees forever. And I further provide that should theire be any back payments or incumberance on the North West quarter of Section Eleven at the death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, my son, George Schmitt, shall assign and pay one half of said indebtedness or should the title to the North West quarter of Section Eleven not be secured then the North East Quarter of Section Eleven and North West quarter of Section Eleven to be equally divided between my two sons, William Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt to be held to them their heirs and assignees forever.

FOURTH: At the death of my wife, Veronica, Schmitt, I give and bequeath to my daughter, Lizzie Schmitt Feaser, and her husband Wm. Feaser that piece or parcel of Land described as followes – the West half of the North West quarter of Section Twenty Six in Township Eleven North Six East of the fourth princaple merridian together with all the hereditaments and impertinences thereunto belonging to have and to hold for them and theire use during the term of their naturel life time and at the death of Lizzie Schmitt Feaser and her husband William Feaser to be equally divided among their Children of the said, Lizzie Schmitt Feaser share and share alike if an are living. Should there be none living at the time of their death when it shall be Equally divided between my Two Sons, William Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt, to be held to them their heirs and assignees forever. And further that any personal property belonging to my Eastate at the death of my wife Veronica Schmitt it shall be equally devided between my Two sons, Wiliam Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt, AND: Lastly, I hereby appoint my wife, Veronica Schmitt to be Executrix of this my last Will an Testament without Bonds. She to approve and pay all Lawfull debts owed by me at the time of my deceace and hereby revocking all former wills made by me.

WITNESS: Whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seale this day of October AD 1884. (sig) John B. Shmitt

The probate records also listed all his worldly possessions down to how many down feather ticks for the beds they owned.  The value of cattle and how many bushels of oats were also listed in the will and probate records. There it was!  Buried in a library at the University I attended and work at.

Next time your mother suggests you study at the library, better take her up on it.  You might find your relatives there.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Prosper

Diverse, divergent, but yet they were both my 2nd great grandfathers.  They were hard workers, had left their mark on their communities, their families and the plat books of their counties.

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess  (1829-1905)

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910)
August Yess
(1829-1905)

August Yess was born the 29th of January, 1829 in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.   He immigrated to the United States in the 1850s.  I have yet to uncover any documentation telling why…why would you leave your family in Germany to move to Peoria county, IL?  A fellow genealogist gave me some clues.  Maybe he wasn’t the oldest child and was looking at a lifetime of military service. Maybe he had little chance of inheriting any land to live on. Maybe he was a young 23 year old man who was excited about the prospects of what life could offer him in the United States.  Whatever the answer is or was, he came with few worldly goods.

He married a fellow immigrant, Theresa Hanlach in Peoria County in 1855.   They would have Charles, William, Mary, Amanda, Joseph and John Yess.  John, my great grandfather, died before his father. August passed away at age 76.  He and Theresa had acquired a lot of land in Peoria county.  His name was all over the plat book in Jubilee township.  He had left Germany and in little more than 50 years, had prospered to the point of leaving a substantial estate behind for his family.

Elias Chenoweth  1835-1915

By contrast, one of my other 2nd great grandfathers, Elias Chenoweth, was born in Washington County, Indiana 21 June 1835.  The Chenoweth family had already been in the United States for 125 years by the time Elias was born.  In fact, the Chenoweth family was in the United States BEFORE they were the United States! October 30, 1856 he married Permelia Ellis in Fulton County, Illinois.  Her family had been in the American Colonies before 1606.  Elias and Permelia were the parents to Mary, Emma, James, Adaline, Martha Jane, William Harrison and Elias Milton.Two of their children would die before Elias.

While Elias had moved to Fulton County, Illinois with his parents and five of seven siblings. (Two died prior to moving to Illinois.)  Elias would live in the home his father had built near Bernadotte, Illinois, on the farm his father had purchased, but he prospered of his own toil.  I discovered how ambitious he was from his papers.

My grandparents and parents are excellent archivists and had saved old checks, deeds, and financial papers throughout the years.  Looking at checks dating back to the late 1880’s and early 1900’s as well as reading deeds and loan papers, I figured out he often loaned money to neighbors so they could pay their real estate taxes.  Copies of papers signed by those individuals as well as copies of the deeds were buried in the family archives.

As an interesting aside, I once found a paper regarding a loan he had filed with the County Clerk in Fulton County, Illinois . Imagine my surprise when I found these details on the legal paper.

Certificate of Redemption to Elias Chenoweth for 35 acres in Fulton County, Illinois for the sum of $15.08 plus .25 cents for the copy of the certificate.  The certificate is signed on March 24, 1911 by Clerk of the County Court, Austin  Onion and the fee had been paid in June of 1910.

The interesting twist is my sister is married to a gentleman named Onion and they have a son named, Austin.  So, my 2nd great grandfather had been issued a certificate by a gentleman who’s relative would marry Elias Chenoweth’s great-great granddaughter!  Small world, eh?

Both 2nd great grandfathers prospered but in different ways.  Both had large families and invested wisely so they owned significant land later.  However, one was a first generation immigrant and the other was a multi-generation Patriot.