52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Poor Man

His family is shrouded in layers of unanswered questions…poor man. His paper trail spells out a lack of financial stability…poor man. The road to his final years comes to a screeching halt at a brick wall…poor man.

Benjamin Haffner and his bride Julianna Beason married in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia in 1825. (This part of Virginia would form part of the new state of West Virginia in 1863.) They would parent six children: two sons and four daughters. Two of the girls would die before their third birthdays. Benjamin made his living as a ploughmaker. His success in that occupation is unknown.

According to the 1850 Federal Census, Benjamin was listed as a “pauper”. The census for that year listed special persons in column 13: blind, deaf, insane, pauper, idiotic, or convict. What did that actually mean? Were he and his family receiving charity and help from the county? How was that notation made?

Benjamin’s and Julianna’s last appearances are in the 1860. At the age of 69, Benjamin has no occupation listed. He and his wife are living with two unmarried daughters who are seamstresses in Martinsburg. Within the next year, that town will become divided and torn as the Civil War rages in the Shenandoah Valley. What happened to them? The brick wall stands in the way.

As of this date, Benjamin and Julianna remain a mystery. He is one poor man among many whose life story is hidden and buried. Perhaps one day, the poor man will be resurrected and his story known.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Rich Man

The tools of the trade: library card, dictionary, pens, five daily newspapers, morning cups of joe, retirement time. These tools aided in his raking in untold wealth. My father, Edward Joseph Slabik, was a rich man, indeed. He was rich in vocabulary. That richness is the gold found in reading every library book he could check out…in thoroughly comprehending and absorbing five daily newspapers…in completing five puzzles a day. He was wealthy in his love of the words and in complex thinking skills that many of the puzzles demanded. He loved the challenge of getting the answers to “thinking outside of the box” clues. Word wealthy…that was my dad!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Cousins

I first met her when I was adding the first branches and leaves to my family tree. I would learn little about her at first. None of my immediate family had seen her since the 1930’s. Their memories of her were vague and sketchy. There had been one last phone call from her 40 years ago when she asked my grandmother for help. When she was refused, her reply was, “I should have known my father’s people would not help me.” Elusive and mysterious…who was this first cousin of mine? The trail she left was winding and covered with crooked pathways.

My first cousin Betty Lou Boultinghouse Blackmore Scothern Million was found in a childhood photo with her cousins Merna Mae and Mary Lee. The girls were holding two puppies and two baby foxes. (Betty Lou’s father was the warden of a game preserve, and he had supplied the pups and kits for the girls to hold and cuddle.) At that time, Betty Lou was about 9 years old. She appeared childhood happy and connected to her cousins, but they would never meet up with her again. Her life would betray that appearance.

Merna Mae, Betty Lou, Mary Lee, Unnamed Child
With Kits and Pups: 1934

The rest of her story has been found in census records, wedding announcements, divorce decrees, obituary, phone calls, and tombstone. The next part of her life is found in the 1940 Census: her parents had divorced and remarried other spouses. Both parents stated that she was living with her mother in Wyoming and with her father in Nebraska and Colorado. Was she? Her new stepfather had taken her under his wing, but was she really alienated from her father? Later stories would tell the tale…alone gain.

At the age of 17, she dropped out of high school to marry her first husband. Together they had a son. The husband turned out to be a rake, a scoundrel, a philanderer. He deserted her and the boy, and she was left with nothing. Because she could not provide for her son, she entrusted him to her mother and stepfather. Legally, they adopted him and changed his name. She visited him when she could, but it was not often. Alone again…

At the age of 22, she married her second husband. Coming from an established family, her husband’s people were not quite accepting of her and her questionable background. To start a career, she graduated from beauty school to become a beauty operator. This marriage, too, broke apart due to tensions and family interference. Alone again…

Betty Lou wandered around Wyoming…listless and unfocused. Finally, at the age of 41, she met her last husband. He was a Navy veteran. He was stable. He was hard-working. She was happy. After 11 years of marriage, her husband passed away. Alone again…

Out on her own, Betty Lou somehow survived despite her pleas to my grandmother. From all accounts, her mother and stepfather heard little from her even though they lived in the same area of Wyoming. Her son barely knew her. She died at the age of 64…alone again, but now resting in God’s hands.

Her tombstone bears a strange inscription. “Dear Betty, Peace be with you. Jack Coffee”. Now on to the next mystery…

Note: In corresponding with Betty Lou’s son and grandson, I discovered she had told the boys little about her father, Edward Ralph Boultinghouse. Both boys only knew him as “Jack”. They did not know his birth name. When offered help in learning about him, they refused seeking any information.