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.
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!
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.
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.
The Depression left the Storer family with plenty to work for just to keep afloat. Their oldest daughter, Merna Mae, was just six years old in 1930. It was time for school to begin. Would her father be able to take time from his daily farm schedule to get her to the one room schoolhouse? Would her mother with an infant daughter be able to get her there? The parents decided that they would teach their Mae Mae (Merna’s nickname) to be independent. They would teach her how to ride her horse Beauty to school. Her father Andrew would help her practice the route as he rode along on his horse. He would show her the dirt roads to travel and landmarks for which to spot. She would be able to do this on her own each school day…the little six year old.
Each school morning, little Mae Mae and Beauty were traveling companions. Most days, they spotted a red fox peeping out of the brush at them. The two would pause to study the fox. He just stared back. So it was that Mae Mae looked for friends in nature to greet them each morning.
Mae Mae graduated from her one room schoolhouse in 1938. Her school records show that she had no absences or tardies. She won an art contest while in 8th grade that set her future sights on painting and creating.
Throughout her life, Mae Mae was very proud of the fact that her school transportation was her beloved horse Beauty. Also, she wanted to remember her foxy friend. She purchased a print by artist Bonnie Marris to display in her living room.
Now big yellow school buses transport the students of Osborne County, Kansas, to daily classes. One room school houses are an educational memory. And the great grand kits of the peeping fox sleep in the sun of the plains.
Note: Twenty years later, Mae Mae would become my mother. Her stories of Beauty and the rides to school are treasured memories.
Recently in two of her podcasts, Amy Johnson Crow discussed downsizing and treasuring genealogical goodies that may be found. She told about her parents’ home and the level of feelings one might experience when going through this process. I could relate to many of the observations she made. So…I am presenting a companion piece to her work.
More than five years ago, I downsized my widowed mother’s house after she had suffered a major stroke and relocated to assisted living. Each day that I spent in her home became an adventure and a treasure hunt of sorts. Each time, I uncovered an item that I had not previously seen, touched, and enjoyed. Since she had given me permission to take what I wanted, I took her up on that.
My mother had been a decorative tole (French for tin) painter for 30 years. She sold most of her wares at craft shows and kept some things for herself. At the back of her pantry, I found five unique pieces that were exquisitely painted. Why were they hidden away? Bringing them to our house, they were lovingly placed in an antique baker’s cabinet with glass doors. These are treasures that tell the story of my mom’s artistic talents.
In the linen closet, there was a heavy plastic case. I could see a purple and white quilt. Through the window of the case, I saw a stitched signature of the creator. Since my mom loved purple and frequented craft shows, I assumed it was a purchase she had made. Taking the quilt out, I saw that each white square had a woman’s signature. Oh my goodness, there were my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s signatures! They belonged to a sewing circle during the Depression…this was a project that was made. Each lady would have a signature quilt. Why was this hidden away? This was a treasure that told the story of my grammy’s sewing talents. It now rests on a quilt rack in a bedroom.
In a dresser drawer, I discovered two of my father’s treasures: his wallet and his high school graduation yearbook. I had never seen this yearbook! My dad was a senior in 1941-1942. His class would be the first to graduate after Pearl Harbor. Inside, classmates had written messages like “See ya in Tokyo” and “Let’s go get them”. I discovered what clubs and sports he participated in. I saw his friends and read their messages. Why was this hidden away? It was a treasure that told the story of an immigrants’ son who was the first to graduate from high school.
One of the last goodies that was uncovered was almost thrown away. Down in the basement, I had sifted through junk that needed to be pitched. I was exhausted and just wanted to trash it all so this could be over. In an old dresser was a long manila envelope…more trash? My husband told me to open the envelope…I almost said “no”. Inside was a panoramic picture of my great grandparents’ Kansas farm. Outside in the yard, my great grandmother had piled the little kids in the family Model T. My great grandfather sat on his tractor. My grandfather was holding the bridle of one of the horses. The teenaged children had gathered up the dogs and cats. The picture was dated 17 February 1917. Six months later, my grandfather would enlist in the Army for World War I. (Five years later, my grandfather would marry my grandmother.) Why was this hidden away? It was a treasure that told the story of family pride and love. Since its discovery, the picture has been framed and hangs proudly in our home.
What an adventure this task of cleaning and organizing became! Why were all of these hidden away? They were hidden away so they would be venerated by the family historian…that is where I come in!
Folded into the rich context of her life was a secret compartment of memories. They stemmed from childhood in France and followed her across the grasslands of Kansas. How did those memories all meld together? What did they prophesize about the core of her being?
Maria Magdalina Kramer was born in 1828 in a region of France that is nestled near the border of Germany. Her ears heard sprinklings of French and German, and she spoke a smattering of each. Her memories would take her back to the convent school where the nuns taught her how to be proficient in needlework. Exactly when and with whom she immigrated to Manhattan, New York, in the early 1840’s is not known. What did her memory record about that ship voyage across the Atlantic?
Somehow while living in Manhattan, she met an Army private who was stationed at Fort Columbus. Her memories would take her back to that meeting and their marriage…she was 15 years old while he was 25. Her groom was Amos Howell Boultinghouse. He was from White County, Illinois. What did her memory record about their journey in 1843 to his home where they would start their family and farm?
Married for almost 20 years, the couple would be separated when Amos reenlisted to once again be a Army private…the Civil War was pulling them apart. Her memories would take her back to those days with the children on the farm…a woman alone. Amos would return back to his family at the end of the war…unharmed. What did her memory record about their reunion back into each other’s arms?
In 1871, Maria was bound on another journey. Amos had gained a new farmland for the family in Osborne County, Kansas, through the Homestead Act. Why did the family decide to move on westward and leave their adult married children behind? Her memories would take her back to how it felt to be carrying a child as they moved on. What did her memory record about giving birth the day after they arrived in Kansas?
Through the years, Maria and Amos farmed the land…suffered several tragedies…Amos dying of exhaustion eight years before her. Her memories would take her back to those days of hardship and parting from her beloved Amos. What did her memory record about those final days and her final journey?
Taking any of her memories out of context still highlights the richness of her life…my beloved second great grandmother…Maria (Mary) Kramer Boultinghouse.
This morning, our friend and neighbor Walter Simpson brought us the most awful news. Just what everyone feared! We are trying to grasp what this can mean for us. This horrible happening took place a few hundred miles from us, but the heartbreak and devastation have shrouded us in terror and uncertainty. Will we be saved from Mother Nature’s wrath for not caring for her soil after the harvest?
Walter told us that yesterday is being called Black Sunday. The sky brought a storm of soil so thick through the air that those outside could barely breath or see to find their ways home. More farms will be abandoned as their occupants pack up and move westward…they cannot feed their families and livestock. It is so incomprehensible to me how this all happened right here in the land we call “the bread basket of America”. Granted we have not made much profit from this farm we rent from Andrew’s uncle’s people in Mississippi.
My husband Andrew and I need to discuss if we will hold steadfast to our idea of farming and living on these Kansas plains. After all, our parents and grandparents came to this land in the 1870’s with nothing but dreams. With two young daughters, we have to plan how we will care for all four of us. Our president FDR has only been in office for a short amount of time…will he be able to save us from this next disaster of the Depression? The conservationists state that there is an answer to caring for the land, but it will take time.
The state motto of “Ad astra per aspera…to the stars through difficulties” reminds us that we are gifted with perseverance and resiliency. May Almighty God grant us those graces.
~Isabella Mary Boultinghouse Storer
Tilden Township, Osborne County, Kansas
Note: Isabella is my maternal grandmother. This writing is her imagined reaction to the news of Black Sunday.
Plat books are treasure maps that show exactly what lands an ancestor owned. How many acres did he/she own? What waterways were on or near the property? Did any railroads pass through the township? Who were that particular person’s neighbors? Where was the school house? Where were the cemeteries? Many questions tout the answers when viewing these maps.
Locating a plat book for Osborne County, Kansas, that was published in 1900 was a great find for me. I located both my great grandfather’s (W.I. Storer’s) and my second great grandfather’s (William Henry Stevens’) farms. W.I. and family lived in Tilden Township on lands his father had sold to him. W.I. owned 240 acres with easy access to the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The little village of Bloomington was close by where the post office was located along with a small general store and cafe. His brothers Willard and Charles lived on neighboring farms. They, too, had bought lands from their father. W. I.’s wife Sarah Almina lived near her brothers. The families were close in proximity if not also in reach. W.I. and Sarah had donated land from the southeast corner of their property to create the Bloomington Cemetery. (The location of this cemetery is marked on the plat.) By 1900, the Storers had lived in the county for almost 30 years.
William Henry Stevens’ farm also had 240 acres, but it was located in Kill Creek Township (which is south of Tilden Township). The Will and his wife Isabella had been obtained the land through the Homestead Act of 1862. A portion of Kill Creek went across his farm. Some of his daughters had married nearby neighbors. Part of his family remained close by while others lived hundreds of miles away. By 1900, the Stevens family had lived in the county for almost 30 years. (By 1900, the county was 33 years old. These two families were some of her pioneer families.)
Plats are, indeed, treasures and treasure maps. Gold and precious gems of information are contained within their drawings. They aid in mapping out one’s research.
It would definitely be a mistake to underestimate her…a mistake to ignore her internal strength. Little is known about her real struggles and challenges, or the way she perceived them. The paper trail she left behind is almost nonexistent. No mistaking that Rhoda Howell was a pioneer woman who was left widowed on the plains of Illinois in 1823. Her husband Daniel Boultinghouse had died at the age of 48. Rhoda was his third wife. Together, they had two children: Amos Howell Boultinghouse and Matilda Boultinghouse. Daniel had left behind 11 other children from his previous marriages; some were adults while the rest needed raising. That fell to Rhoda and her mature stepsons. There is no evidence that she married again so she could have the companionship of a man as devoted to surviving pioneer life as she was.
Evidence does show that she appeared at the White County, Illinois, courthouse three years after her husband’s death. Bearing her letter as administrator of his estate , she had come to settle his debts. Daniel had died without a will so this may have placed certain burdens on her. She received a widow’s dower of $40. In the probate report, it recorded that she had sold personal property to cover some of the debts. How was she going to care for her 12 year old daughter and 8 year old son plus several stepchildren? How would she feed and clothe them? How could she be both mother and father to them?
After the 1820 census where her life was documented by a tick mark, she is not found again even in looking at her stepchildren’s families on the census…no tick marks found that could possibly be Rhonda. Who protected and cared for her in her final days? Where was she buried?
No mistake that a testament to her ability to raise resilient and strong children was evident in her son Amos Howell Boultinghouse. Amos would enlist in the Army at the age of 19, start a family at 25, reenlist in the Army during the Civil War at the age of 43, and settle on a farm in Kansas at the age of 53. Yes, it would be a mistake to discount her strength and steadfastness.