Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

There are so many opportunities for names to be, not just misspelled, but completely butchered. What a mess as far as researching family lines goes! Too bad they didn’t have computers “back then.”

I’ve been researching my family for forty years and have found some errors that leave me wondering about the common sense of record keepers, census takers, and the original transcribers — and some leave me laughing.

My 2nd great-grandfather’s name, Xavier Thomas Prentis, was transcribed from the 1850 census as Havier Runtz! I kid you not. No wonder it took so long for me to find it. The name of his widowed mother, above his, was correctly transcribed as Mary Prentis. Ten years later, the 1860 census was transcribed correctly — but his name is incorrect on the original as Exavier Prentiss, handwritten with the long s: Prentiſs.  In 1870, it’s transcribed as Xame Prentiss, again handwritten as Prentiſs, but reads Xavier on the original. According to my family, he typically used only the initials, X. T., and no wonder! Also living with them in 1850 and 1860 was Mary’s unmarried, older sister. In 1850, she was Philona R. Edwards. In 1860, she is Philora. (Was it Philona or Philora?) On the Iowa WPA Graves Registration site, Xavier’s name is recorded as Xaviert Prontis! and on Findagrave.com, his name was Xavier T. Prentice (until my correction was accepted), while his actual headstone is correct according to my father. (Edit: Thanks to a volunteer photographer, this can now be verified). Even his name in his obituary printed in the 1884 Ringgold Record was misspelled (and while the year of death in the obituary is 1884, by golly if the year doesn’t appear to be 1885 on the headstone photo). Transcribers for WGA blessed my great-grandfather with the Prontis alias, too, and in the 1870 census, he was Elizier E. Prentiſs.

Xavier Thomas Prentis

Xavier Thomas Prentis

My grandfather, with the same name as his grandfather — except he didn’t know it for about 40 or 45 years — used only the initials, even as a child.  Oh, he knew he was named for his grandfather, but he apparently thought his grandfather’s name was only X. T. too. Anyway, in several census records, all handwritten correctly if you look at the actual documents, Granddad’s name is transcribed incorrectly as A.T.  Prentice, K.T. Prentis, and N.T. Prentis.  Only in the social security death index is he X. Prentis. If I hadn’t known the names of others in the family, I would probably still be looking for those records.

Besides errors like those — and the fact that there have been three predominant variations of my maiden name in this country since the 1600s (PRENTIS, PRENTISS, and PRENTICE — all here at that time believed to be somehow related to one another), there were also a few “creative” variations with extra t’s, s’s, or e’s thrown in here and there for about the first hundred years  in America (PRENTIES, PRENTTIES, PRENTS and others — possibly even some colonial familes called PARENTS and PRINCE may be related too).  Prior to 1600 in England there were yet more variations of the name with z’s instead of s’s (PRENTZ, PRENTIZ, PRINTZ), etc.

Before my great grandfather, who complicated matters more with the spelling of his first name (was it Glasier or Glazier?), the spelling of our surname varied even within generations, or in one instance between husband and wife! The headstones of my 7th-great granduncle and his wife, side by side, show two different spellings of the couple’s last name.  Yes, really. Their children’s and grandchildren’s headstones in the same cemetery show other variations, as do those of other relatives. Many of these were educators, doctors, businessmen, community leaders and politicians, so it wasn’t a case of uneducated people misspelling their own names.

Capt. Jonathan Prentties, 1657-1727

Capt. Jonathan Prentties, 1657-1727

Elisabeth Latimer Prentis, 1667-1759

Elisabeth Latimer Prentis, 1667-1759

Names in church and parish records weren’t always recorded correctly, or spellings sometimes changed depending on who entered them — a name on a birth record may be spelled differently on a marriage or death record. The same minister could have even written it different ways at different times. Further complications arose with errors on deeds and military records and when typesetters for newspapers made mistakes in obituaries.  I’ve even seen records with the names in the body of the document reading Prentiss and/or Prentice, then signed Prentis — or vice versa. That’s not even accounting for nicknames or being called only by initials or a middle name rather than a given name, or the delivering physician (who happened to be an uncle) filling out a name on a birth certificate incorrectly — and forgetting to correct it — then realizing 40-some years later when you lose a bet because the birth certificate you thought didn’t exist does, and you “suddenly” have a full name by which you’ve never been called.*

I’m not even going to get started with the TENNANT, TENANT, TENNENT fiasco… yet.

One thing after another, and something as simple as a name can get pretty complicated!

* Granddad was always “just X” or “just X. T.” and didn’t know he had any name but the initials until when serving in the Iowa Senate, a news reporter asked his full name. Like the many other times he’d been asked, he told the man his name was  “just X. T.” The reporter bet him that he had a full name on his birth certificate, but Granddad didn’t think he had one of those either. The reporter had done his homework and had either already found a copy, or then went and searched for it, but a birth certificate bearing a full name of Xavier Thomas Prentis was produced. Apparently when he was born, his uncle Percy was the doctor who delivered him, and when he asked what name he should write in the register, my great grandfather told his brother to “name him after Dad.” “Uncle Doc” wrote down the full name of his father, Xavier Thomas Prentis, but Granddad was only ever referred to thereafter as X. T.  On all other official (and correctly transcribed) records — besides his birth certificate, apparently —  he was “just X. T.”

Six Generations

Six Generations

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It’s somewhat ironic that I should stumble upon this just today.

October 30, 1982
Mount Ayr, Iowa
Gladys Tennant Prentis

I am compelled to write. We are in the last stages of a political campaign. Ronald Reagan is President. Governor and Congressional races are the important issues. I do not feel very strongly in favor of any particular candidate — but as a life-long Republican, I will vote mostly that way.

I am disturbed at the smear campaigns so many are conducting. We are in the midst of a depression or recession — unemployment is high, many are on welfare. Prices to the farmer are low — prices of things they must buy are high — but I remember. I will soon be 84 years old, and I can’t remember where I laid my scissors down — but I remember when things were much worse than they are now. My radio and TV blare out the political slogans — “Iowa is losing her people, they are going to the Sun Belt, the young people are leaving Iowa, and they will never come back.”

Sound familiar? Anyway, she continues…

They do come back, or I wouldn’t be here. This is my story.

My parents were farmers. They had two small children. One day they noticed the little girl was limping. She continued to limp more and more. When she was three years old, my parents took her to Chicago to a famous children’s hospital. There the doctors diagnosed her problem as tuberculosis of the bone. This of course, is your Aunt Edna. This was about 90 years ago, and the doctors thought an operation would help. My father always thought that perhaps he had had a tuberculous cow and that Edna had contracted the disease from the fresh milk. Iowa has since taken care of that problem. Cows are tested for TB and milk is all pasteurized. We do make progress.

The doctors operated — removed the diseased bone and literally carved out a new hip socket. She was in the Chicago hospital three months. Mother stayed with her. Carl was a baby and he was with Grandma Tennant in Mount Ayr. Dad felt he had to get back to the farm and try to make some money to pay the tremendous bills. When Edna and Mother came home, Carl didn’t remember her, and it took a while before he would leave Grandma (Christinia*). Soon another baby was on the way and Uncle Maurice was born. The farm was two miles from the country school where my mother had gone to school and later taught. (Later I attended that school for one year.) My parents realized Edna would never be able to walk those two miles, good days and bad snow, rain and sunshine, so my father looked around for other employment. He finally decided to go to school and study to be an Osteopathic Physician. So he rented out the farm (80 acres my mother had inherited from her parents) and moved his little family to Kirksville, Missouri. This was in 1898 and my mother was again pregnant, and I was on my way to join the family.

Kirksville had two schools of Osteopathy — Still’s and Ward’s. He chose Ward’s because it was cheaper tuition and he could rent a house close to the campus. They haad a grade school for students’ children, so Edna and Carl entered there. Edna had never gone to school though she was almost eight years old. Those were hard times, too, and there was no welfare or help financially as there is now.

The little songs  I sing to the babies are songs Edna and Carl learned at the school in Kirksville — A Little Boy Went Walking; I Saw a Rabbit; Here’s a Ball for Baby; Good Morning, Merry Sunshine, etc. My mother sang them to me… I sang them to my children… my grandchildren and my great grand children. Who knows… I may yet sing (or try to sing) them to my great great grandchildren!

To wind this up — (old people never know when they have remembered more than they should), my father graduated from college, was granted a license to practice Osteopathy and moved his family to Trenton, Missouri, where he began to practice. We’ve come a long way in many respects since those days int he early 1900s. My mother had a very severe case of Typhoid Fever soon after they were established in Trenton. Doctors told my father, in her frail condition, that my mother could not survive a severe mid-west winter. So he closed his office, bundled up his little family — a lame daughter on crutches, two little boys, and a little girl, 3 months — me. My mother was so weak she could not even hold me on her lap, but Dad took the train headed for California — no job — no money, but determined to save his beloved wife’s life.

The only job he could find was a grocery store clerk for $10 per week. He only intended to stay a few of the winter months, but we stayed six or seven years. I attended Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades in Pasadena. By that time Dad had lost his license to practice Osteopathy, the boys were at an age when they needed something to do, so the folks decided to return to the farm in Adams County, Iowa.

Again we boarded the train. To get back to the politics, — we did come back to Iowa. After a city lot, 80 acres seemed like “all outdoors” to us. Dad bought used machinery, a team of horses, a spring wagon, a cow and some pigs, and we were in business.

Now about unemployment. In those days, the man of the household was the only employed person. If all the women who used to stay in the home would go back there, there would probably be jobs for all the men.

The last part of the letter isn’t with the rest of it. Maybe I’ll find it one day.



Along with the previous letter is one from my Dad’s cousin Marion to his sister Anne:

Mount Ayr, Iowa
April 14, 1988


As for Mother’s surgeries: Hip operation took place in Chicago when she was 3 years old. She does not remember the name of the hospital other than it was a Catholic hospital. The nuns gave her a doll when she left — no, we don’t have it. Operation: they took off the ‘head’ (ball) of the femur and scraped the socket. For several years it would slip out of place, so she lay in the bed with a weight attached to her leg; the weight then suspended over the end of the bed to PULL Mom’s hip back in place. Then her father, G. A. Tennant, observed an Osteopath at work and was impressed… he then moved the family to Kirksvillle, Missouri (school of Osteopathy located there) and proceeded to learn how to manipulated Mom’s hip in order to avoid the weight ordeal attached to leg. So he promptly went to school and learned how to and was successful! Made it easier for both he and Mom. He graduated from the school and planned to set up an office in Trenton, Missouri. Whereupon, Grandma Tennant (Fannie L.) came down with a terrible case of typhoid fever… after nursing Grandma through it. Upon doctor’s advice he took his family of 4 children and sick wife to California!!

Knee surgery: took place in Rochester, Minn. They cut the knee joint removing 1-1/2 inches of dead bone (diseased) — that’s all the way around the knee, nearly severing the leg (as one can see by the scar). Then they brought the two “live bones” together fastening them with a silver nail! Then they put the leg in a cast that went from the ankle to groin, which she wore from October to March… Mom was 25 years old when this operation was performed. That’s it from Mom’s mouth!


* Note: Nana always spelled her Grandma’s name Christiania. I have corrected it to Christinia per other records I have. Her nickname was “Teen.”

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Today I spent about four hours digitally restoring a photo for a distant relative who recently contacted me in regard to a common Main family ancestor. I’ve restored photos previously, but this one was a particular challenge requiring about 36 Photoshop layers of enhancements to get to the “final” stage. I probably could have obsessed over it longer, but decided that after four hours, it was probably good enough.

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Original Scan

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Digitally Restored

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Digitally Restored

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Restored Sepia

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Restored Sepia

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For some reason, my mother’s thirty-third birthday (April 4, 1965) is a memory to me. I think it was the year I was first aware of her age. I remember her looking so pretty, made up with lipstick and dressed in a fancy brownish-taupe dress with a wide, darker brown silky bow tied at the neckline. I also remember going to Grandma’s for her party. I don’t seem to have a picture from that time, but I do have photos from other times she was all fancied up…

Mom and Barb

With every button buttoned and every press pressed
They’re dressed up, and aren’t they the best?!

Mom and Barb

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you!

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Most of my family knows I’m a family genealogy buff, occasionally immersing myself for days in a search and then putting it aside again for weeks or months at a time. I’ve been searching for more information on the Walford and Richards branches of the Prentis family lately, nearly exhausting (it seems, but probably not) every possible Internet-based genealogical resource to which I have access. I did find cemetery records and added a few names, but could not for the life of me find the marriage date of my dad’s mother’s maternal grandparents (2nd great-grandparents to me), Sarah Walford and Richard E. Richards. Only then did I reluctantly dig into the mess of genealogical papers I’ve been hoarding for years without thoroughly going through them.

I was so organized years ago when my two darling, curious daughters (probably about ages 3 and 4 at the time) accidentally dumped the contents of a very large file box and scattered its contents. I’m still not sure how two little girls could get it so jumbled, so quickly. All I could do was look into their apologetic faces, tell them it was okay, put it all randomly back in the box — and avoid it for years. Little by little, I pick at it, try to make sense of it, and enter the information into my computer.

Today I picked through stacks of still very disorganized papers and folders and came across a thick folder of Dad’s sister Anne’s information that had been given to me after she died. I had glanced through it, and except for Xeroxed photos I hadn’t seen previously, most looked familiar. (Since many of the older photos burned with my Dad’s parents’ home back in the 1950s, who has these originals now?) Anyway, Anne and I had corresponded for years working on family history pursuits along with another distant family member (a daughter of my grandfather’s half-brother).

The first thing I found in her information was my Grandma Main’s obituary. (Wrong side of the family. How did that get in there?) Putting that aside, I then found a church program dated 14 Dec 1940, from Lincoln Center Methodist Church in Lincoln Township, Adams Co., Iowa. With that, I knew I was in the right section of Aunt Anne’s family papers. It listed as three of their seven charter members, Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Richards and Miss Mary Ann Frederick (also called “Mamie,” the 2nd wife of Sarah’s brother Charles).

The next few pages were obviously poor Xerox copies of very old, handwritten letters that were difficult for me to decipher, but I tried with the help of Ali and Steve, especially after reading one that (thankfully!) had already been transcribed. Anne’s transcription begins with, “I can’t read the name of the place where this letter was written, but from his diary, we know that in April 1864, he was in Gordon’s Mills, Georgia, so we can assume he was somewhere in that vicinity the month before when he wrote this beautiful love letter!” The marriage date I’d been struggling to find was there in my hands within the first few lines. I don’t know yet what became of the diary Anne mentioned, but the letter is so touching that it would have been a shame for me not to have found it.

Richard Edward Richards - Company C, 125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Richard E. Richards -125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Company C

March 26th ’64

My Dear Wife,

It’s 8 years ago today since our nuptial vows were mutually given. Our love was then young, but it was planted in sincerity and like the sturdy oak of the forest has tightened its roots as the storms of time have beat upon it. Many changes & some trials have met us as we journey along, but with all the changes time has wrought with wars and separation, it has not robbed us of our early affection for each other. We have sometimes seen the time when for a moment, when love seemed to vibrate, but it was only the effect of a little storm passing by which when passed only stimulated and encouraged the roots to again shoot downwards and tighten their hold in a firmer bed of better earth, to become more substantial and better able to stand defiantly against the storm and bid the whirlwinds howl.

I feel, my dearest, the truth of the words in the old song (absence makes the heart grow fonder) such I feel it to be in our case. I fancy sometimes you love me too much, but how can I say it, were I to feel that you loved me less, my heart would be sad. Yet I feel unworthy of the unwavering affection with which I am crowned by my darling companion and sharer of each of the sorrows which lurk in my path. I love you dearest wife. No freezing wind can chill that warmth of mutual love. No dashing snow or pitting rain can drown even one spark. We are separated in body at least for a time, but I feel that we are together in spirit and enjoy a sympathy of soul which neither time nor space can deprive us of, and should we fail to meet again on this terrestrial ball, faith whispering peace, exclaims we soon shall meet in Heaven. I am in an enemy’s country exposed to pain and death, but still my soul is tranquil. I know that my stay upon the earth is but short and the summons will soon come for you, but my prayer to my Saviour is that we may meet ere the cold flood shall bear us away, but still may our hearts breathe the language of resignation and say with one of old, thy will Oh Lord, not mine be done.

Your health is poor. Be careful of yourself. Keep your mind easy and should I be spared to return to my home, may God grant that I may not find there a vacant seat. I know, dear wife, you pray for me and it encourages my heart. May we meet again.

I received your letter of the 11th on the 20th, with one from George. I posted one to you the same day. I suppose you have seen Edward before this time. I wrote to him in care of Mr. B. on the 18th. Give my love to him. We had a very heavy snow storm on the 22nd. It was 7 inches deep. By the night of the 24th, it had all gone and before the morning of the 25th, another had fallen, which went off yesterday and last night with a rain. It is very muddy and still threatens storms. We are all tolerably well. I feel better than I have for several days. I wish you would send me more of Ayers pills. You might send a box and try to keep me supplied with stamps. I am very near out. Paper and envelopes I can generally buy. Give all my love to all friends. Hoping you are all happy and well, with love and kisses for the little ones and yourself.

My ever beloved,
Your aff’t husband

The George he mentioned receiving a letter from may have been Sarah’s brother and Edward may have been his uncle, but I’m uncertain as to whom Mr. B. may have been. A postscript, in which “C.” probably refers to Sarah’s brother Charles, reads:

I haven’t heard from C. for a long time and he promised to write punctually. My last to him was (can’t decipher date).

In 1986, Dad’s cousin Marion Anderson had written to Anne as a follow-up to her inquiry about “the Civil War letters.” A copy of this letter, which I also found today, has been included in Anne’s material. From that letter, it’s apparent that there were sixty letters in all. According to Marion, the letters were given to her mother (my great-aunt Edna) by her mother, Fannie Tennant, after having been stored “in the attic of the house in Adams County all the time the Tennants were in California.” She also said “mice have dined on many envelopes and a few of the letters themselves,” and the “marvelous letters” were “so old and brittle.” Marion and her sister Thelma did not think most could be unfolded and handled to copy without harm, and so I assume only these few were ever copied. Since Marion is no longer living, the original letters, and perhaps the diary, may still be in my dad’s cousin Thelma’s possession. It would be nice if they could be put in the local historical society’s hands, at least.

I’m not sure how Anne accomplished it, but a few of these letters were obviously eventually copied or I would not have them. Attached to an 1864 letter that Anne had not transcribed is her note that the following was written by Richard to his two young sons, Eddy and Freddy, in Peoria, Illinois, while recovering from wounds he received in battle at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia. He had first been taken to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, then Louisville, Kentucky, and finally Chicago, Illinois. Their sons were Thomas Edward and William Fred, hence “Eddy” and “Freddy.” His daughters Mary and Fannie were not born until later.

I’ve transcribed the letter as follows, guessing at a few words here and there:

Marine Hospital
Chicago, Ill. Dec. 21st, ’64

To Eddy and Freddy, my very dear little boys,

As you may be pleased to hear Ma read a letter from your Pa to you, I will write a few lines and someday I trust each of you will be able to read it for yourselves, should you keep it long enough. You will then see and remember that when your Papa was far away from you, that he still loved you both very dearly. I will tell you where I was a year ago and see if you can remember Ma telling you about it.

I had just got back from a long and very hard march into East Tennessee, where we had been to drive the Rebels away from Knoxville. They were surrounding the place and trying to take it and capture our brave Soldiers. The weather was cold, as you know it is in December. We had no blankets with us, and our clothing was thin. We had to sleep on the ground, which was very damp, and the snow would sometimes fall on us while we slept. It was very uncomfortable and hard, but God, who is ever good and always present preserved us from harm and brought us back. And while I was cold and shivering, and sometimes hungry, I often thought of my little boys at home and hoped they were warm and comfortable and happy. I prayed to God to bless them and me, and he did bless us and brought Pa back again, and you saw him a little while ago at home.

I hope you will always love God and pray to him, and he will bless you and you will be happy while you live and happy when you die. We must always pray to God. I pray that he will still preserve our house and that he will bring Pa back to stay with his dear little Boys and Ma, and that we may be very happy. I hope you will pray too, and I trust God will hear and answer our prayers.

I send with this as a token of my love, a little piece of money with which you may do what you please. The streets are so slippery and the weather so cold I can’t get out of the house. I shall perhaps be home in the Spring and I hope I shall find you not only big, but also good boys.

Give strict attention to what your teacher or your Ma may tell you. Learn all you can that is good and try not to do anything wrong. Always be kind ones to the others and never get out of temper or be cross. Always be cheerful and when you have anything to do, do it well always, and as quick as you can. Never stop to think it is hard and make a great many excuses, but go right to work. That will help you do it easy.

And now may God bless, preserve, and help you is the prayer of

Your aff’t

A note attached to a third letter not transcribed by Aunt Anne states that the following is a letter from Richard’s mother, Ellen (Steward) Richards, who lived at Eastern Hill in England, the farm the Richards family rented for nearly 100 years. It is postmarked 1872, from Redditch.

Again, I have had to guess at some of the words:

Eastern Hill
August 9th, ’72

My dearest Richard,

I am spared once more to address you and feel very anxious to hear from you, as I have written some months ago to you requesting, or rather expecting a speedy reply, but no doing.

So without hearing as much as an account of America makes one feel very uncomfortable about you. I hope your poor foot or any other affliction, whether of body or mind, has not prevented it.

It has been and shall remain a very irregular and unusual season. There has [sic] been very many thunderstorms, strong winds and considerable damage. A (building?) swilling cattle is out, filling house with water to the extent of great losses. I will send you an Alverton paper which will give you some better idea England at this time is in. Very confused and unsettled, with God only knows what will be the result. Talk to who you will, all seem to have some particular trouble or (threat?) to contend with your brother. Joseph remains in the town as Bailiff for his (Land log?). He has behaved very kind to him. I should say he is freer from (law?) with trouble than he has been for years. His wife has been spending a little time with us and she a very good kind of woman. C. Brown and your sister are doing very comfortably. They are all with your sister. (Polly?) has been very poorly but is getting better. She has got a very nice little home and her husband is very (under~?). I think I told you in my last all [illegible] about (Nollen?). I shall suffer very much from my (heart?) and think I shall be taken off suddenly. God’s will be done. I pray that he will prepare me for that great event as I can do nothing of Myself.

Your Brother, (his?) Lucy and Myself are very happy. We have much to be thankful for though troubles often [illegible] and this is not our home for real happiness. You will see by the paper I send Your Aunt Sarah is leaving her farm. It has been sold and put to another. She is very much upset with husband but I suppose he is in a pretty good position and it is [sic] fearful times with farmers. Crops are very bad generally and labour fearful high amid Gents too. But I hope all will work together for some good. I hope to have it in my power to pay my way the short time I have to remain here.

I must now, my dear R., say adieu. God bless you and yours to whom we are much in affectionate love. Hoping to hear from you soon. Kisses to the dear children. Tell them Grandma has got a pretty little boy and would love to have a game to play with them again and will. God bless you. Believe me.

Your aff’t

Ellen died at the age of 81 years, 10 days on 13 Jul 1881.

Out of sixty letters, I seem to have only the three, but how fortunate I feel to have them. Too bad that no one had the foresight to transcribe and preserve them better. That kind of thing is much easier to do these days. Now that I’ve perhaps piqued my family’s interest in the Richards and Walford branches of the Prentis family, I have more entertaining, genealogical details for the same branches to post another day.

I have set aside large amounts of time in the last 40 years to finding and preserving my family’s history, but I am forever grateful for my aunt’s similar dedication and for the treasures saved, discovered, and left to me by her, my parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. I’m also grateful that I’ve kept some letters addressed to me and my children from our own grandparents, and hope that one day they will be as cherished by future generations as these Civil War era letters are by me today.

Richard Edward Richards

Richard Edward Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

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My paternal grandmother (Nana) initiated my interest in genealogy when I was ten years old. I had many family stories from her in writing over the years, but didn’t have anything recorded except names and dates from my mother’s side — even though a few stories had been shared orally.

For my maternal grandma’s 74th birthday, I gave her an empty journal and asked her to fill it when she felt like writing. I’m sure she took several weeks to fill it, but from the initial date and how it flows, it appears she began writing on her birthday and never stopped until she ran out of room. Too much for one blog post, I plan to break it into parts and eventually include it in its entirety.

She begins:

March 9, 1986
Age 74 years

My life began in one of the worst snow storms ever recorded in Iowa. It was March 9th, 1912, and Mother was to have a doctor from Kellerton, Iowa. That night when I decided to join the family, the snow was piled so high on the roads that there was no way for the Kellerton doctor to get there, so Mother’s brother, Fred Richardson, and Dad’s brother, Albert Stephens, went to Hatfield, Missouri and Doctor Dunkenson came back with them in a bobsled. After I was born, they took him back to Hatfield. On the way down and on the way back, they went across the fields and the snow was so hard and piled so high that they could go right over the fences.

Mother, Dad and Lola, my sister, 19 months old, accepted me into their home, located one and one-forth miles north of the Missouri-Iowa line at Lee, Iowa. Today the road is called P-64. At Lee, Iowa there was a large general store, etc., and north of the store close to the Missouri line on the west side of the road was the Lee school. After my mother graduated from there and went on to graduate from Kellerton High School, and also after going to Normal School in Mount Ayr, High School, she returned to the Lee School as its teacher. It was at one of the neighborhood gatherings that my dad and mother became friends. They later married in a home wedding in my grandparents’ home located one-half mile north and less than a mile west on the north side of the road from Lee School.

Dad and his brother Albert Stephens both graduated from Caledonia, Iowa school and also Auctioneer School in Davenport, Iowa. They followed this occupation along with farming and raising registered cattle and hogs. In their youth they followed the harvest in many states working north to the Dakotas. Their brother Roy was a school teacher and went on horseback several miles to his school, in all kinds of weather. He got tuberculosis of the lungs and back in those days, about the only thing to do for it was to go to a dry climate, so Dad and Albert took Roy in a covered wagon to Colorado for his health. He only got worse, so they came home where he died. Almost a year later, his younger brother died of the same thing. Roy was in his 20s and Earl was around 16 years old.

When I was one year old, my parents bought the place east of Caledonia and lived there the rest of their married life. Dad died January 13, 1970, and Mother died April 28, 1975. Her funeral was April 30, 1975. This would have been Mother’s 86th birthday. Dad lived to be 87 years old.

When I was four years old, the folks’ barn was built. There was almost a new house, cave, and chicken house on the farm when they moved there. They gave $100 an acre. We heated our house with wood that Dad and Albert cut from their farms. It was my job to bring in wood and pile it on the west side of the porch north of the kitchen after I got home from school.

Grandma and Lola

It was such a long trip to Mount Ayr over the dirt road that Mother didn’t go unless she had to get something. Lola and I didn’t get to go to Mount Ayr much until Lola went in town to stay at Mother’s aunt and uncle’s, the Dough Sullivan’s, when she went to High School. At 12 years old, Uncle Albert went to town every Saturday night when the roads were dry enough. By then he and Dad both had cars and they got a Tractor to farm with. Dad drove the tractor and Albert drove horses to farm. Albert asked us if we would like to go to town on Saturday night. This was in the summer before I was to go in town with Lola to go to High School. Lola was a senior and I was a freshman. We enjoyed the summer going with Albert. We went to the show and everyone walked around the square. All farmers and people in town went to town on Saturday night and the stores closed at one or one-thirty.

Lola graduated and I stayed in town at O.G. Spencer’s. Four of us girls lived upstairs there. High School years were good and I grew up a lot and learned a lot about boys. Some were nice and some not so nice. I had not had any playmates except in school when I was growing up, so I was quite shy, but in High School I learned how to get along with both girls and boys. There wasn’t much to do but go to the show and I didn’t have the money for that. The boys didn’t have money to spend on a girl, so all they could do was walk a girl home and carry her books after school. At night there was the library that was open until 9 PM. All the school kids would go there to get dates, but like I said before, there wasn’t anything to do but walk, for none of the High School kids could have a car then.

Grandma Main

These were the Depression years and times were hard. Our parents did pretty well to get our clothes, school things and feed us. When we stayed in town, we did our own cooking, most of the time from what we could bring from home. Many times, by the end of the week, we went to bed hungry because we didn’t have any money to go to town and get food when we ran out. We knew we could not go to Wilson’s Grocery Store and run up a big bill for Dad to pay, but we could go if it rained and we could not get home on the dirt roads. When we did charge food, we were to get bread, a little meat, potatoes, and things like that. No extras, but once in a while we slipped in some cookies or fruit. The milk was taken with us from home and soon soured, as there was no ice box. Few had electric refrigerators.

When Patty was born we had to keep her milk in the ice box. The ice man came and delivered ice from Jesse Anderson’s Feed Store.1 We could go there and buy ice for cold drinks and to make ice cream. Before Barbara was born, we got a used refrigerator with a round thing up on the top where some of the cooling parts were. Much later, we got a new one and a nice electric stove. Up until then, my stove was an oil stove. There were three burners and the oven was like a metal box that I put over the burners to bake cakes and oven dishes. I hated this green stove, for when I used it, the house smelled of the oil fumes. Most of the stoves were oil then. I also had a range stove in two houses. Before oil stoves, people cooked in coal and wood ranges. I remember Mother’s with the warming oven on top and a place to keep water hot on the side of it. The oven was between the fire box and water tank. We had a range stove to heat bath water.


1Jesse married my paternal great aunt, Edna Tennant.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

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As politically incorrect as “Gypsy Gyp,” which I called this story growing up, and the description of the fortune teller would be today, this is another tale of my mother’s childhood. To be more appropriate for today, this story should probably be renamed “The Fortune Teller,” although I’ve retained Mom’s original words.

From the time I was in fourth grade I had been playing the cornet, and by the time I was in Jr. High I finally reached the level of being accepted into the MAHS Band. From that time on, I played at every city, county and often state events in which the band was invited to participate. Sometimes we even received a small pittance for our services. For all city and county appearances we each received the huge amount of fifty cents per concert! It was during one of these events that the following story took place.

Then, in her best Sophia Petrillo voice…

Picture it: the Ringgold County Fair, 1947.

Mom, high school senior photo

With events both at the Fair Grounds and all around the entire city square, it seemed as if the population of the entire county turned out in full glory for these celebrations, and large carnivals were one of the biggest attractions, especially for the younger set.

Each day during the County Fair our band played two concerts, one in the afternoon at the Fair Grounds, and another in the city bandstand located in the middle of the square in the courthouse lawn. After our evening concert, we each received our ‘pittance’ for the day, a whopping total of one dollar for the two concerts. This sum, naturally, was spent at the carnival or on refreshments, and was soon gone.

The summer before my junior year in high school, during the County Fair and following the evening concert, after receiving our ‘pay,’ a girlfriend and I decided to be really daring and go to the Gypsy tent and have our fortunes told. Standing outside her tent, this decrepit shriveled up old hag was chanting over and over, “Fortooooons I tell yooooo…just fifteeeeee cents!” Well, Phyllis and I each had our dollar, and since we had already made up our minds to learn the unknown… we each handed her a dollar. We were escorted into her tent, asked to sit at the table, and then told she would have to go to her trailer for our change, and she would be right back.

Well, you guessed it, an eternity passed, and not one sign of the old dilapidated shriveled up Gypsy, or our change; however, we were two naive rural bumpkins and still thought she would return. After waiting another ten or fifteen minutes, it finally ‘hit’ us… my gawd! She wasn’t coming back! We then went out the back entrance of the tent, and bravely knocked on her trailer door… Of course, no sound from the trailer, and no response to our constant pounding. It was then, that we became a bit wiser and realized we had been taken for a buck apiece, so we devised our revengeful tactics.

Now since neither of us had any money, and could do nothing else at the carnival, we spent the next hour or so standing in front of this Gypsy’s tent shouting constantly the following chant: “Fortooooons she tell yooooo…just fifteeeeee cents to get eeen and fifteeeeee cents to get out!” Naturally, no one attempted to enter the tent, and her business dropped off like a lead balloon. We were quite an attraction, and probably should have passed the hat among our appreciative audience. We were having the time of our lives, even though our money we ‘blew’ for had been blown!

Well, by coincidence, my neighbor (and good friend of the family who bore a striking resemblance to Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon) was the Deputy Sheriff on duty that evening. As he strolled by us he hesitated, looked around at the crowd, then at us, winked and asked us if we were having fun. It was then we told him our sad story of being cheated out of a ‘day’s wages’ by this hag, and we were merely revengefully getting our money’s worth. He then burst into an uncontrollable roaring belly laugh. Finally, after what seemed forever, he composed himself enough to suggest we accompany him to the Gypsy’s tent and he would see that we were refunded all our money. Of course, when this towering 6’6″ pistol-packing Deputy Sheriff in full uniform pounded on her door and uttered the words…. “Open up in the name of the law!” she did not hesitate to answer the door. It took him about five seconds to retrieve our dollars and order her to remove her tent and trailer and to ‘get outta town.’ Even more amazing was that it seemed to take her no longer than the next five seconds to dismantle the tent and drive off with her trailer….

After we stood and watched her departure, our hero, the Deputy, escorted us both to one of our favorite hangouts — Barney Horne’s Drug Store — and bought us each a double dip ice cream cone with cherries on top as sort of a reward for being ‘crime stoppers.’ Well, we always assumed the ice cream was our reward, but I think it was that he was just a nice guy. I do know this — he enjoyed telling the story over and over to anyone who would listen, as I have enjoyed telling it to my children and grandchildren throughout the years.

To this day, I have never again desired to have my future told, but I sure do enjoy a double dip cone!

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A story about my mom — in her own words.

Much to my dislike, but because of my mother’s insistence, I was forced to endure one class of home economics each day of my four years of high school. Our class usually consisted of around twenty girls, which is not an uncommon class size; however, the home ec. department was not well endowed with appliances or other facilities needed for proper hands-on instruction. We were to share the four sewing machines during the times sewing was our project, and it was required you do all your sewing in class. With only three kitchen ranges, it became rather hectic when we were in the cooking or baking mode, but it was during one of those cooking and baking modes that caused the following event to evolve:

The Superintendent treated the entire teaching staff to a ‘Teacher’s Tea’ after school hours on the last Thursday of every month. And for this occasion each home ec. class baked cookies. Now, mind you, there were four classes of home ec. each day, and we all spent two class periods baking this humongous amount of cookies. All four classes spending two days baking cookies created several dishpans full of cookies, which were stored under lock and key in the department’s pantry. Now, if you can imagine, this little school had an entire teaching staff, grades K-12 of less than twenty-five….. Just how many cookies do they need? Needless to say, none of us were allowed even so much as a taste of these goodies, as ‘there wouldn’t be enough for the tea, if we were to eat any!’ I’m sure by now you have an inkling as to what followed.

It was to be the last ‘Teacher’s Tea’ of my senior year, and as usual, we were baking for two days, storing away in the pantry, and watching our instructor lock the door and then place the key in the middle drawer of her desk. Well, the entire class was completely fed up with the way we were made to bake all these goodies and never allowed to eat any, but only four of us would decide to correct that situation. We were well aware of our home ec. instructor’s free period time, and her daily habit of going to the hot lunch room to consume her little mid-afternoon snack, a Bermuda onion sandwich! We all had other classes or duties, but decided we would each ask to be excused for a restroom break at exactly five minutes after our home ec. instructor’s break began. With three of us in different classrooms and one serving as secretary for the Superintendent that hour, no one would be the wiser.

At the predesignated time, we all left our respective classrooms, and even though we each had to walk by the Superintendent’s office which was next to the home ec. department, we quickly made it to our destination, obtained the key from the desk, unlocked the pantry and began our ‘Great Cookie Caper’ in full swing! The pans of cookies were removed from the pantry, the door locked, and the key returned to the desk where we had found it. We each carried one of these huge pans heaping with a variety of delicious cookies and made our way to the tunnel under the stage in the gymnasium. As the side door of the home ec. department led directly to the stairs down to that tunnel, we successfully maneuvered without being seen by anyone. With the cookies safely in place, we returned to our respective classes or duties as if nothing had taken place except a long restroom break.

Now, you’re probably wondering just what ever happened to all those cookies, and what did the teachers nibble on during their ‘Tea. ‘Prior to our ‘Liberation Heist’ of the cookies, and even though we were not positive our plan would work, our ‘gang of four’ managed to successfully spread the word via the grapevine to every student in high school that there would be goodies in the tunnel after 2:30 p.m….free for the taking, compliments of the ‘Teacher’s Tea’ and home ec department!

By 3:00 p.m., as we passed through the halls going from class to class, it was very evident the cookies were being thoroughly enjoyed and consumed by all, as the halls were already strewn with cookie crumbs from end to end. Every pocket of every student was stuffed with cookies, but not a soul said a word about the cookies, where they came from, or how it was made possible — not even the Superintendent as he strolled the halls nibbling a chocolate chip cookie. However, he did have a twinkle in his eye, a huge grin on his face, and winked as we passed in the hall. And I heard him exclaim as he walked out of sight, “So much for the cookies at tea for tonight!”

Mom, high school senior

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I’ve always enjoyed genealogy and sharing family stories with my kids. Now that I’m a Nana, it somehow seems even more urgent (and fun!) for me to record things for prosperity so that our descendants will know the people from whom they came — even if for the most part, they were very “ordinary” people, living very “ordinary” lives.

My parents were both good story-tellers about their early years. Dad has his own blog now, and with enough coaxing, perhaps Mom will do the same. There are three main stories I loved so much as a child that I gave them titles and have retold them to my own children. They may remember them, but it’s good to have them in writing. One of my favorites involved my dad as a child in the 1930s, when my grandparents decided to modernize the monstrous coal-burning furnace in the basement of their house. Dad often told me the story of “the mysterious furnace,” which he once used as a subject of a school paper. Unfortunately, the paper no longer exists, but to the best of my recollection, I will retell his story:

Young Dad

One winter, my father’s parents decided to convert their coal furnace to electricity. My grandmother’s cousin, Charlie Trimble, was an electrician in their small rural town. They asked him to come over and wire the furnace for electricity.

Granddad watched as Charlie finished up the job. The furnace worked well and soon the whole house was toasty warm. Granddad and Charlie climbed the stairs, turned off the light, and Charlie departed. Shortly after Charlie left, the house began to get chilly, so Granddad decided he had better check on the furnace. He flipped on the light switch at the top of the stairs and descended to the basement. Expecting to find something wrong with the furnace, he was puzzled to find it roaring away. Satisfied that the furnace appeared to be working properly, he went back up the stairs and flipped off the light.

Much time passed and still the house did not warm up so he called Charlie back to see what the trouble was. Charlie and Granddad returned to the basement, turning the light on as they climbed down the stairs. When they reached the furnace it was roaring loudly. Charlie could not figure out the problem—he checked it all over and could find nothing wrong. All the time he was there, the furnace ran perfectly and the house again grew warm, but shortly after Charlie left, the house cooled off once more.

While Charlie and Granddad had been working on the furnace, my dad had been playing outdoors. He knew they were having a lot of trouble getting the furnace to work right. When Dad decided to go into the house, he entered through the outside basement doors, thinking Granddad and Charlie might still be there. The basement was quiet as he stumbled in the darkness up the stairs to turn on the light. As he flipped on the switch, the furnace began to roar. Startled, he turned around to look, and then decided to run and tell Granddad that the furnace was working again. However, just as he flipped off the light switch, the furnace abruptly stopped! Wondering why it had stopped so suddenly, he turned the light back on to have a look and just as he did, the furnace started up. He turned the light off and the furnace quit. He turned the light on and the furnace roared—he did this several times in amazement, and then ran to tell Granddad about the weird goings-on.

XT Prentis

Granddad hurriedly went to the basement to check out my dad’s unexplained mystery. He discovered that by mistake, Charlie had hooked the furnace up to the light at the top of the stairs, so whenever someone had been in the basement the furnace worked beautifully and pumped out the heat, but as soon as they had gone back upstairs and turned off the light, the electricity to the furnace was disconnected and the furnace stopped working! My dad had solved the case of the mysterious furnace. Charlie returned to the house and rewired the electrical connection so that it would operate on a different circuit.

Whenever my dad told this amusing story, my mother would jokingly add, “That’s probably the only time in your life you remembered to turn off the light when you left a room!” Mom grew up in the same small town and even though Charlie really was a very good electrician, word must have gotten around about his goof, because she also recalled her own father saying, completely in jest, “If you want some electrical work done properly, for heaven’s sake, don’t call Charlie Trimble!”

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It’s my son’s birthday today, and when I think about a birthday cake for Joel, this is where my mind goes. . . back to 1983, baking a cake with my helpful 2-year-old.

Joel age 2

Loaf of Gold Cake
(Bake at 350° F. for about 65 min.)

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350° F. Get out bowl, spoons and ingredients. Grease and flour 9x5x3-in. loaf pan. Remove 18 blocks, 4 toy cars and plastic hammer from kitchen table. Measure 2 cups of flour. Remove Joel’s hands from flour. Wash Joel’s hands. Measure one more cup of flour to replace the flour on the floor. Measure remainder of ingredients (except eggs) into large mixer bowl. Get the broom and dustpan and brush up pieces of bowl which Joel knocked on the floor. Put the dogs outside. Get another bowl. Answer doorbell. Return to kitchen and remove Joel’s hands from the bowl. Wash Joel. Get out the eggs. Answer phone. Return. Take out loaf pan and remove cup of salt from the pan. Look for Joel. Get another pan and grease it. Answer the phone. Return to kitchen and find Joel. Remove the grimy hands from the bowl. Wash off shortening. Take up greased pan and find a handful of dog food in it. Head for Joel who flees, knocking bowl off the table. Wash the floor. Wash the table. Wash the dishes. Call the bakery. Lie down.


Happy, happy birthday Joel dear
Happy things will come to you all year
If I had one wish then it would be
A happy, happy birthday to you, from me

And happy birthday wishes also to my niece Brandy who was born a year and a day later.


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