Sunday, January 26, 2014

52 Ancestors: #4 Rosel Belnap

In addition to writing about an ancestor born during the month of my blog post, I have also decided to rotate among the 4 lines of my children's grandparents: Norton, Palmer, Brooks and Hammon.  So this week we finally turn to my mother's side of the family, our Hammon predecessors.  That seemed like a good idea until I started combing the files for a January birthday.  It wasn't a popular month for some reason!

Finally I came upon Rosel Belnap, my 3rd great grandfather.  In order to make that understandable:

Rosel Belnap
Gilbert Belnap
Martha Jane Belnap - Levi Byram Hammon
Daniel Glenn Hammon
Jean Hammon Brooks
(my mother)

Rosel was born 4 January 1789 in Cayuga County, New York. His was a large family.  He appears to have been the 6th child of possibly 15 children. He married Jane Richmond, also of New York most likely prior to 1804. According to a copy of the family bible made in 1898, Rosel moved to Ontario, Canada in 1805.  This is an interesting parallel to one of Phil's ancestors,  the Pattisons. This area of New York and southern Canada was very interwoven and boundaries weren't firmly established until the late 1830's.  

Rosel appears in many census and tax records with a variety of spellings: Rosewell, Roswel, Belknop, Belknap, etc.  Spelling was obviously not important at that time. There is a family story that Rosel served in the War of 1812, but that seems unlikely as he is listed in a census in Hamilton Township, Ontario that same year. According to (undocumented) sources on the internet, Rosel's occupation was horse racing, particularly driving or carriage racing of trotter horses.  He died on 2 December 1832, apparently from an accident sustained during a race.  Sadly, his wife died three months later, leaving their large family of 8 children orphaned.

My 2nd ggf , Gilbert Belnap, was only 11 when his father died, but he did name his first born son, Gilbert Rosel Belnap.  I hadn't realized that Gilbert (the father) was born in Canada.  Gilbert made his way back to the states and eventually joined the LDS (Mormon) church.  Gilbert died in Utah in 1899, 67 years after losing his father. It amazes me how far this man traveled from his birthplace.  There are many Belnap descendants who have formed the Belnap Family Organization where you can learn more about their history.

Addendum:  Jessi asked a great question and I did find some information, mostly about our ancestor Gilbert Belnap.  After the children were orphaned, they were most likely farmed out to different relatives and even strangers.  Gilbert had already been indentured to learn the trade of wheelwright and wagon maker. The man he was apprenticed to was a heavy drinker and hard master.  They moved around, ending up in New York, where Gilbert learned that he no longer was bound by U.S. law as an apprentice.  After leaving his master, he returned to Canada seeking his siblings.  He learned that an elder brother had spent the inheritance and that the family was dispersed.  Gilbert took the youngest brother, Thomas (then 5 years old) back to the states.  He moved around extensively but did provide for this brother.  He reunited with his maternal grandparents in Pennsylvania and kept in touch with his siblings.  Of course, he eventually made his way west.  It will be interesting to learn the stories of the other children of Rosel and Jane.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

52 Ancestors: #3 Mary Esther Nifong

Mary Esther Nifong

My great-grandmother was born in Booneville, Logan, Arkansas on January 28, 1868.  She was called "Mamaw" by her grandchildren and Mama by her children.  Mary was a strong woman who kept a large family in food, shelter and clothing on a meager pastor's salary.  I am lucky that her daughter, Esther Rebecca Autry, wrote a brief biography of her called "And Mama Stayed Home".  My father, Robert Autry Brooks, also has written about her and I will include some of their information here.

As you can see from the dates, Mary was born soon after the Civil War. She was the fourth child and only daughter.  Her family farmed in Booneville and that's where she had a happy childhood.  She walked two miles to school, finishing the twelfth grade and wining several medals including spelling and deportment. Mary's mother, Rebecca Jane Spangler (Nifong), was her example in strictness and taught Mary to be a good seamstress, even having her rip out anything that didn't seem right.  Mary was devoted to her mother all her life and took care of her in her last days at the homestead in Booneville.

Mary was teaching school in the summer of 1888 when she heard of a young preacher named, Allen Hill Autry.  At the time he was travelling the country selling organs to pay his way through school.  When she refused to meet him, "Al" went looking for her. After introductions and some family dinners, he even managed to sell her father an organ.  Mary wrote to him and they were married three years later on 29 April 1891.  They first settled in Booneville where Allen taught half-time at the Baptist church (and half-time at the church in Magazine, Arkansas).

Seven children were born to them, with six living to adulthood.  Their oldest child, Ruth, is my grandmother. The next child, Allen Harvey, died in infancy.  Then came Esther (my middle name is for this wonderful lady), Mary, John, Paul and Daniel.  Allen Hill was a noted pastor, evangelist and lecturer for 40 years in Arkansas.  The family moved almost constantly, even in and out of the same home in Booneville.  I counted 11 Arkansas moves in Esther's biography, including Booneville, Springdale, Magazine, Nashville and finally settling in Little Rock in 1918.

Mary kept a big garden and a chicken coop. They took in boarders during World War II.  She nursed both her mother and her husband in their final years.  This is what Esther says of her:

We remember her as tall and slender, rather stately in her bearing, with a lovely complexion, gray eyes and the prettiest dark brown hair, kept long - and usually in a knot or roll on top her head.  She was known among her many friends as a person of Intelligence, Humor, and keen wit.  She had both musical and artistic ability.

I loved this picture of Allen and Mary - it shows such companionship and joy.

Allen Hill Autry died in 1932.  Mary lived another 23 years as a doting mother and grandmother.  She is the only grandparent that my father remembers.  She died in Little Rock, 26 March 1955, the year my father graduated from Harvard Medical School.  Here is what he has to say about her:

Mamaw was of German background with no sense of humor. She took care of 6 children on limited income.  Her philosophy was: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without.  One time, there was something to do that no one would do:  so she said:  We will just sit here and do nothing and be nothing! She was very loving, but very strict and organized.  Everything she did was done with an object of saving time or money or work. She would do anything for her children or her husband,Grand-dad Autry, but expected all of them to obey her.   
The last time I saw her, I was leaving Little Rock to go with friends back to Boston and we stopped for me to tell her good bye.  Without any smile she said:  Robert, we are proud of you.  Nothing anyone has ever told me meant as much as that did. I did not see her again

Here is a picture of her with my uncle Walter, his mother Ruth and Mary's mother Rebecca. Rebecca died in 1927 so I think this was taken around 1926.  Mary is in the middle. This is an amazing picture of 3 strong women who worked hard caring for their families (and one very cute little boy!).  I wish I had known them but am glad for this chance to learn more.

P.S. I got a lovely email from a cousin who knew Mamaw well as a child.  She used to have Sunday dinner with her and still enjoys the taste of KFC (original) because it reminds her of Mamaw's fried chicken.  Now I know why I love it so much too!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

52 Ancestors: #2 Ward Kendall Palmer

I am continuing with my theme of January birthdays but this week's ancestor is a bit harder for me.  I don't have a lot of information on him so I will share what I have.  I'm also sad I couldn't find  a picture of him. But he did make the press on several occasions in Fredonia New York!

Ward Kendall Palmer

Born on 26 January 1912, Kendall or Ken was the younger brother of Phil's grandfather, Nelson Palmer. Thus he is Phil's "grand" or great- uncle.  According to his niece Dianne Palmer Wetjen, he was a high spirited guy who could tell stories and play the piano while singing a tune.  He had a small pug terrier named Boots who would howl and jump around while Ken was playing. He was married twice, both woman named Mary.

Ken lived with his first wife, Mary Chamberlin, in Dunkirk and Batavia New York.  He served as Vice President at the Bank of Fredonia and then at Liberty Bank and Trust in the late 50s and early 60s.  He was active in the community as there are articles about his involvement in school and civic affairs.  In May of 1961, he was elected president of the Chatauqua County Bankers Association.

Some time after Mary Chamberlain Palmer died of a brain tumor, Kendall met another Mary while visiting his sister and brother-in-law, Marguerite and Paul Mohney, in Florida. He later moved to Florida where he died 10 June 1989 in Boynton Beach, Palm Beach County.

It is fascinating for me to realize how long the "Florida connection" has been going on with the Palmer family. I guess our Marco Island home is just another link in the chain.

Some of my goals for Great-Uncle Kendall is to find him in the 1940 census. I'd  like to know where he went to school, when he moved to Florida, and when his marriages took place.  There is also an adopted daughter, Bonnie, to find.  So many mysteries - all of which could have been solved if I had asked the right questions at the right time!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

52 Ancestors: #1 Jennie Belle Lewis

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow who blogs at No Story To Small, I am accepting the challenge to blog about 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks!  Yep, that means one per week.  I thought I might try to write about people during their birthday month.  January proved to be a challenge.  It seems we don't have that many January birthdays!   But here's a very special one:

Jennie Belle Lewis

Jennie Belle is Phil's paternal grandmother (which means she is his father's mother). She was born in Groton, South Dakota on 16 January 1891.  By the time she was 9, she was living with her parents in Devil's Lake, North Dakota.  Her mother, Carrie Scarvell, was born in Michigan and her father, Edward Merton Lewis, was born in Wisconsin.  So she was a real Midwestern girl.

At some point she moved to Minnesota (I think there were Scarvell relatives there - I need to check that out) where she met and married William Wellington Norton. This was in 1915 (see my earlier post about finding their marriage license).  She spent much of the rest of her life in Flint, Michigan where William taught and served as the orchestra's conductor.

She died on the 24th of September in 1944.  Her son, Clint, was serving in the Army Air Corps at the time and was given leave to fly a plane home to her funeral.  It's fitting that Clint was a military man because Jennie Belle's ancestors served in the Revolutionary War.

There are many things I hope to learn about Jennie Belle and her life. She was an only child and must have led an interesting life in some very out of the way places!  I guess I need to take a road trip to the Dakotas (and Michigan)

Addendum: Doris Norton, Jennie Belle's daughter-in-law, sent more information.  She describes Jennie Belle as "brilliant" with a degree in Latin.  In addition to her degree, she excelled as a cook, was a fine pianist and a witty conversationalist.  She accompanied a choir that her husband, W.W. Norton, conducted.  But the best tribute to her Jennie Belle is that she was kind and died much too young.  Thanks for giving us even more insight into this dynamic woman who was the mother of 5 children (I can so relate to her!).