Why is it that some ancestors remain a true mystery as to character and personality until a little detective work is done? Finding just the right resource to add the Sherlock to Holmes does the trick! I found answers in a weekly newspaper printed in Osborne County, Kansas…Osborne County Farmer which was published each Thursday. My second great grandparents James and Mary Emily (Weaver) Nickel came to life on those pages. Small town newspapers are a treasure filled with little happenings of local interest. Here are ten of those happenings that I found that brought this couple to life for me.
First, James and Mary settled on a farm in Tilden Township. James’ father John lived with their family. John had obtained the land through the Homestead Act. I learned their reason for coming to Kansas from Ohio…free land.
Second, James was a successful wheat farmer who sold one harvest of 500 bushels for 77 cents/bushel. He was a successful horse trader. He purchased a thresher and helped his neighbors cut their wheat and corn. I learned he was hard-working and resourceful
Third, on Mary Emily’s 50th birthday, he planned a surprise party for her. Remember that small town papers infuse articles with little tidbits and asides. The couple was touted as “real good people and pioneers to the area”. As the report does, James wanted to fry up chicken for the party; however, he could not bring himself to behead the chicken. He called upon his neighbors who were invited to the party to “help fix the grub”. I learned that Mary Emily and James enjoyed planning parties and get-togethers. He was thoughtful of his wife. He could not clean a chicken to fry.
Fourth, on his dad John’s 70th birthday, he again planned a surprise party. At that time, to turn 70 was quite the honor. John’s elderly pals were invited. They toasted to being some of the oldest men who were once the pioneers of the county. I learned that James honored his elders.
Fifth, James volunteered to take care of a section of the county road. I learned that to be a citizen volunteer was valued by him.
Sixth, when Mary Emily died in 1903, her obituary spoke of her virtues as a loving wife, mother, and neighbor. She was a member of the Eastern Star, where she volunteered for many duties. She was praised as being faithful. I learned Mary was well-loved and honored.
Seventh, James lived by himself for several years after Mary’s death. His father lived with him. Together, they took care of one another until Papa John passed. He decided to rent his farm and move into town. He was a caring son to this father in old age. James decided to rent his farm and move to town.
Eighth, as James went to rent his farm, it was discovered that he did not actually own the land. His father did not have a will so the land was divided among James and his children. One of James’ son stated that he owned the farm from a transaction with Papa John that had never been recorded. It turned into a legal battle that involved the whole family. The trial went to jury. The verdict was that each surviving family member would receive a section of the land since the “buyer” could not produce a record of the sale. It was a legal mess that produced fractured relationships. I learned that every family has its battles…some settled in court.
Ninth, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Osborne County, the newspaper helped publish a remembrance book, The People Came. The local historical society lent a huge hand in helping to organize the layout of the book. Those who wished could write about their pioneer ancestors. Pictures could be included. The book would be arranged by the names of the township with families in alphabetical order. Most biographies contained birth, marriage, and death dates along with names of children…very factual with some snippets and stories. James and Mary Emily’s “couple biography” was included. Included was a picture of the couple, which had been cropped from a family picture. How wonderful to see their faces! Sadly, the faces of their grown children had been edited out. The entry told of the couple’s lives devoted to one another. The entry did leave out one important fact…
Tenth, when fleshing out Grandpa James, I finally located his obituary from 1923. According to what I knew, James had been a widower for 20 years. Surprise, surprise, surprise…his obituary stated that he had a widow. He had married for a second time. What?! He had remarried. Strange that entry in The People Came made no mention of her. His great grandson had submitted the biography. A new mystery: why was the second wife never included in James’ biography?
A story for another day presents itself…I bet Osborne County Farmer will bear no clues to help solve that one.