Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy’

Probably anyone in the U.S. who has ever researched a family history has, at some point, thought one or more ancestors must have just appeared out of thin air, and dropped into a particular place with no parents! Because the census is only every 10 years and prior to 1850, only the head of household was named, if a person was a young adult by 1850, living away from his or her parents, finding relatives in the U.S. can be a challenge unless you’re lucky enough to have other sources of information.

For a great many years, I was practically convinced that my 3rd great-grandmother Elizabeth “Eliza” Watson in this maternal line was one of these dropped out of nowhere, born in Indiana with an older brother Henry who was born in England. I only knew about Henry because Henry’s wife and Eliza’s husband were siblings also (Castetters). All were married in Ripley Co., Indiana before 1850, and also by then their parents were dead, leaving not a trace on paper of their parents ever being in Ripley County. I’ve already written about my Castetter search (another big challenge!).


You have a grand gift for silence, Watson.*

So, I’ve been years on the trail of Eliza and Henry’s families from Indiana to Iowa and Missouri, piecing together everything I could find on any Watson in their vicinity, even others that lived elsewhere in the country, but had Indiana or English roots. Lucky for me, Eliza had a brother — otherwise, her story may have remained a complete mystery to me. You see, women in those days were rarely named in any county histories and social news, except as they related to the men either as wives or daughters — IF they were fortunate enough to have been recorded as more than Mrs. so and so or as an unnamed daughter of so and so. Even in burial, headstones were seldom inscribed with a woman’s maiden name, and even some in my family were buried under stones inscribed, “Mrs.” so and so, with no first name recorded!

A few years back I found an unsourced tree of a likely sister, Naomi, that pointed to possible parents and maternal grandparents. After investigation, I found infant baptism records for Henry and Naomi, in Kent, England, giving their father’s full name and their mother’s first name. I also found their mother’s birth record in Kent. The tree I found appeared correct, and I could then follow her family back several generations with birth and marriage records, but their father was a different story! A John Watson from somewhere in England is as hard to trace as a John Smith! I also thought he was probably from Kent, as was his wife, but it turns out he was not!

I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life.*

Several days ago, I suddenly received an email from a descendant of another of Eliza and Henry’s sisters that I didn’t even know existed! Sarah Joanna — a sister, also married in Ripley County, Indiana. With all my careful sleuthing, how had I missed her?! The writer of the email found me from contributions I’d made to Find A Grave, thinking I was probably one of Henry’s descendants. She wrote, “Did you know Henry’s parents were John Watson and Mary Glover? The whole family is listed in THE EMIGRANT’S GUIDE by William Cobbett, an English reformer.”

Yes, sometime after January 2009, I had learned their parents’ names, but almost nothing about them, except by knowing she was born in Maidstone, Kent, I had been able to follow her line back in some branches a few generations. I’d never heard at all of the sister Sarah she mentioned, nor of this book; however, I immediately searched for it online and found it. WOW! What a wonderful story of family love and perseverance! Information poured from the book, including details of where and when Eliza was born, all the names and birth dates of her siblings, experiences, and hints of family relationships written in letters from Eliza’s father in New Brunswick, Canada; Seneca, New York; and Dearborn County, Indiana to his parents back in SUSSEX!

As it turns out, the author wrote THE EMIGRANT’S GUIDE in 1829, which included several letters written not only by my ancestor, but also his brother, and other family members back to their parents and relatives in England as examples of what an English emigrant might expect to experience when going to the States. The author also briefly explained their departure from England, saying, “several parishes in the East of Sussex had ‘got rid of’ many families that were a great burden to them, or likely to be,” by shipping them off to Canada and the United States. Since finding out who they were, I’ve discovered several relatives of the family also went to Australia about this same time.

The parties writing the letters, are JOHN WATSON, who went from the parish of SEDLESCOMB (Sedlescombe) near BATTLE; from STEPHEN WATSON, his brother, who went from the same place; from MARY JANE WATSON, a daughter of STEPHEN WATSON;… and I suppress not one single word of them….I begin with the letters from JOHN WATSON to his father STEPHEN WATSON of SEDLESCOMB. This JOHN WATSON, it will be perceived, was carried to our sweet colony of NEW BRUNSWICK; but he soon found that he could not live there; and it will be seen with what wondrous toil and perseverance he removed himself, his wife, and his children, first into LOWER CANADA, then into UPPER CANADA, and then in the UNITED STATES. Let this man’s progress be observed: see the English pauper become a good solid landowner in AMERICA, in the course of only five years; and then come to your decision. JOHN WATSON tells his father, that he was discouraged from going to the UNITED STATES; and that many had come from the STATES to NEW BRUNSWICK! These lies had been stuffed into his head, as into the heads of thousands of others; but they all, if they be able soon quit the miserable colonies, and get to the UNITED STATES. (~Cobbett)

I’ll begin now, and later summarize my tale with the last of John’s letters included in the book. On November 29, 1828, John Watson wrote to his parents, Stephen and Sarah Watson, at Sedlescomb [sic], Sussex, “Old England,” from Aurora, Dearborn, Indiana, USA:

We received your letter November 8th, which gave us great satisfaction that you are well, and we are glad to hear that some of you intend coming to America; and we greatly desire that you would all come to this rich fertile country…. We are highly gratified to think of father and mother coming, and more so shall we be if you all will come. We advise you to come to New York and up the river to Albany, where Stephen lives. There you can get information of the road to my house….

Other letters indicate that another brother William had considered coming to the U.S., but was reluctant to believe things in America were as good as his brothers described, and perhaps could not pay his own passage.

When I finished the letters, I had imagined that his parents and at least some of the rest of the family had made it to the U.S., but when I discovered their father as a widower in Whatlington, Sussex, in the 1841 English census, living with his widowed son James and James’ children, it seems John’s mother, Sarah, had died in Sussex. Even with all the desire for the family to be together in the U.S., and with all the encouragement from sons John and Stephen, they never made the journey. Whether brother William or other immediate family members ever did, is yet unknown. By 1851, Stephen, about age 84, was residing with his next younger brother, Thomas, in Goudhurst, Kent; both born in Ewhurst, Sussex according to the census. By 1861, Stephen was no where to be found and had probably died in England.

All letters, beginning in 1819 and on, from sons John and his brother Stephen, Jr. to their parents and from Stephen Jr.’s daughter Mary Jane to her grandparents were addressed to them in “Sedlescomb” [sic], with most adding “near Battle” to the address, but a letter in 1827 also adds “to Footland” (Footlands). Stephen Watson, the father, appears to have been employed by Tilden Smith of Vinehall in Mountfield, Gentleman, owner of Footlands Farm in Sedlescombe (aka: Sedlescomb and Siddlescombe), part of the Vinehall estate in Mountfield, Whatlington, Sedlescombe and Ewhurst, that was originally owned by Lord Ashton. At least some of the John’s children were born on this estate, and John, in 1825, writing of his satisfaction with his life in the U.S., said he would never wish to go back to Mr. Tilden’s farm.

As I find no criminal records for them, John and Stephen Watson from Sedlescombe, were apparently among those considered at least financially burdensome to their parish, and “run off”; however, John, the first of the family to leave, did not initially go to the United States, but to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. John wrote on 15 Oct 1819 from Queensbury, New Brunswick to his father:

Dear Father,— I arrived in St. John the 16th of June, after a disagreeable passage….

Arrival records for the brig “Wellington” are actually dated 15 June, which agree with the date he gave in a subsequent letter in 1822. In his letter of October 1819, however, John continued:

I am now situated 120 miles up the river St. John. The gentleman in whose employ I am, has built me a house in which I now live. I am to have it, and 10 or 12 acres of land, rent free for three years. I expect to be able to maintain my family on this until I get land from Government. Every married man is entitled to 200 acres, and every single man 100…. We are a free people; free from rates and taxes.

The first winter in New Brunswick was severe, and when John did not receive what was promised him, he found that his family could not live there. With “wondrous toil and perseverance he removed himself, his wife, and his children, first into Lower Canada, then into Upper Canada, and then in the United States” (~Cobbett), even after he was discouraged from going to the states. Apparently, King George did not reimburse the parish of Sedlescombe for their passage, nor did John receive any government land and pocket-money for initial expenses, as promised.

On either the 8th or 15th of Mar 1820, they left New Brunwick and went toward Quebec, which was still “an entire wilderness.” From Quebec they proceeded up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal and on to Kingston, Ontario, then up the lake to Niagara, where they crossed over from Fort George into the U.S. Once in America, they traveled east into New York where John found the little land still available too expensive for his means. They stayed in Seneca and Geneva, Ontario, New York only through the summer, where John was employed by Robert Watson from Northumberland, England, who was not related to him. After a few months working, they planned to follow the Allegheny and Ohio rivers into Ohio. Years later, accounts from his son, Rev. James V. Watson, say they had scanty provisions as they passed through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, noting the iron works, and then settled for a time near Cincinnati, Ohio.

By his letter of 15 Jun 1822, John wrote to his parents that he was “perfectly settled” in Aurora, Dearborn, Indiana and wishing their family in England could be with them. In this letter he described their journey from Canada to New York, and finally to Indiana:

I, therefore, with my wife, got a hand-sleigh, in which I placed the children, and drew them on the ice up the St. John’s river, about 360 miles, Mary and myself walking, drawing the children after us. You must also recollect that 100 miles of this was not settled, being all wood. We arrived at the head of St. John’s river. We travelled on in the same manner, across snow and ice, to the great river St. Laurence, about 180 miles below Quebec; there we found the country, along the bank, thickly settled. I then built myself a light waggon, and had all our family provisioned during the time of making the waggon for ‘I thank you’ the good people, who were French Canadians, wishing us very much to stay with them. In this waggon our children were drawn by myself for upwards of 400 miles to Kingston, at the mouth of the lake Ontario. There (as every other place, we met with uncommon kindness) a gentleman, quite a stranger, not only sent us by the steam-boat, free of all expense, to Fort George, but put six or seven dollars in our pockets besides. From Fort George we crossed into the United States, and passed the summer at Geneva, Ontario County, New York state. Hearing a more favourable account of the State of Indiana, I once more started on a ramble, and, travelling across the State of New York, I came to O’Lean (Olean) Point, on the Alleghany river; which river, a very rapid one, I came down in a flat boat to Pittsburgh; here I staid two days, and passing on, after begin detained by head winds, and the water being very low, landed at Aurora, situated at the mouth of Hogan Creek. Here I found myself a stranger, without friends, acquaintance, utensils of any kind, or money, having spent our last dollar a day or two before; added to which, myself and all our family were caught by illness for six or eight weeks, without the power of doing any thing. But no sooner was our situation known, that we had plenty of provisions brought to us, and, as our strength recovered, I obtained work at digging, &c. My wife took in sewing, and by degrees, we have worked it to that I have 2 cows, 2 calves, 9 pigs, and 1 calf expected in August. James is now in school, and I intend to send two in the winter. I have joined with a farmer in cropping; that is, I received one-half of the produce, and had the team found me. I now am working for an English gentleman, named Harris, who is building in Aurora, and owns four quarter sections up the Creek. Much good land can be bought, far distant, for one dollar and a quarter per acre, and improved land for not much more; indeed, so good is the prospect for a man who must live by industry, that I wish all my friends and acquaintance were here with me. I can safely say, I would not, nor would my Mary, return to England on any account whatever. We are now all in good health, and are very desirous of hearing from you.

On April 26, 1823, from Aurora, John wrote after receiving a letter from his parents, that they were sad to receive news of “sister” passing, “who could not have been expected to remain long, having been ill so long.” The name of the sister was not mentioned. He also wrote to his father, “you should have mentioned who my brother James married; we suppose it must be Henry Freeland’s sister.” Records show, however, that James married Hannah Martin, and it was another brother, Edward, who married Harriot (or Harriet) Freeland, sister of Henry, Jr. and daughter of Henry Freeland, Sr. It was evident in this letter that John’s brother Stephen had previously inquired from England about employment in America. John mentioned he was still working for Mr. Harris and expected to be for some time. Quite fortunately for his descendants, John also listed his children in this letter, giving their birth dates:

John, born April 22nd, 1809; James, October 18th, 1813; Naomi, February 7th, 1815; Henry, April 11th, 1818; Eliza Anne, born January 21st, 1821, in Langley township, on Hogan Creek, Dearborn County, Indiana.

He also mentioned his sister Sarah, along with another mention of his brother William and his brother-in-law, William Glover.

In his letter of March 9, 1825 from Aurora, John wrote:

It is two years since we heard from you, excepting a letter from brother Stephen, saying you were all well. We are longing to hear what you are all doing; the particulars of all the family; when you sent the letter, you did not say any thing about William and Sarah, neither who James and Ann was married to…. We should be very glad to hear from all our friends; we think they would do a great deal better here than in England; we cannot think what makes so many of them go back, for we would not come back again for Mr. Tilden Smith’s farm and all he has got.

By this letter, we read that his brother Stephen had arrived in America, but had not come to Indiana, and John was wondering if he had gone back to England. We later learn he had not. John also relayed more news of his children:

We have another little daughter, named Sarah Joanna; she was born on the 29th of February, 1824; the other children are all well; John is grown very much lately; he is almost like a man; he has just been out a month, and earned himself a summer’s suit of clothes, though he is employed at home on the farm. I let him have his wish; he sends his best respects to his grandmother.

In the biographical information written by Rev. E. Q. Fuller regarding Stephen and Sarah’s grandson, Rev. James V. Watson, D.D., we learn that James’ father, John Watson (son of Stephen) was an industrious and moral laborer of the Methodist faith. John Watson’s wife, Mary Glover, affectionately referred by him in letters to his parents as “my Mary,” was of a higher social class, very pious and educated, but her family at some point before her marriage had suffered pecuniary misfortune.

John’s brother Stephen departed London on the ship “Hudson,” and with his family and relative (apparently his cousin), John Gardiner, arrived 4 Sep 1823 in New York City after a 7 weeks-long voyage and 16 days of sea-sickness. They remained in New York City about a week and then sailed about 144 miles on the Hudson River to Albany, where they were well settled by October 5th. He reported in a letter to his father that he did not have enough money to go 1400 more miles to where his brother John was living. Stephen traveled alone to scout out the town of Utica, but found it no better than Albany so decided to remain there, sending some of his children out to live with others so they could attend school. The captain of the Hudson took Mary Jane with him to Connecticut for schooling and Stephen Thomas went to live with a Mr. William Fisher. Naomi was going to live with a Mr. Moulton at Utica and James was going to the same place. In his letter to his parents 5 Oct 1823, he reported that by then his cousin John Gardiner had found his brothers who had come before. The Gardiner brothers’ mother was referred by Mary Jane as her aunt in her later letters. John Gardiner’s brothers were William and James, and at least by 1825, they were all living in Utica, New York. Stephen was unhappy and discouraged about staying in America in September 1823, saying if he couldn’t get enough work they might return to England in the spring, but by 27 Oct 1823, his wife, Elizabeth, wrote home saying she knew they were well off to stay. Stephen was by then sawing with Richard Fuller and they were also living with him, and their son William had found work filling wagons with goods that came in on the canal.

On March 29, 1824, Stephen wrote to his parents again, saying he no longer had any reason to complain of America, his wife liked it very much, and there were so many English people in Albany that it seemed much like home. He also reported again that Captain Champlin was sending Mary Jane to school in Connecticut where she was learning to read and write quite well, and that people paid according to their abilities for the “free school” there in Albany, where 400 “scholars are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, &c., &c.”

By October 27, 1825, Mary Jane was back with her family in Albany and writing for the first time to her grandparents in Sedlescombe and Rye, saying:

I don’t wish to return to England again. I like America much the best; it is a very plentiful country. A person may get a very good living here if they are industrious. My father is doing very well, and is very well satisfied to stay in this country. He has got a cow of his own, and nine hogs. My mother has been lately confined of a daughter; she is very hearty; her name is Sarah Anne. Little Myram (aka: Miriam) is a very pretty child; we think very much of her; I think she is indulged too much in having her own way. Thomas and Naomi are living out. Thomas is living in the country with Mr. Fisher. I have spent two years out to the eastward with the captain I came over with. I took much comfort and consolation with them in the two years. But now I am returned home to my parents. I like living in Albany better than I did to the east. I have been very fortunate. I have got good clothes, and I can dress as well as any lady in Sedlescomb…. The girls here that go out to doing house-work, dress as well as any lady in Sedlescomb.

She continued by describing the current ladies’ fashion in Albany. She also once again encouraged her Uncle William to come to America if the parish would send him, was sorry to hear that the parish said they would not send any more, and wrote that they were surprised to hear of Uncle Edward’s marriage. In addition, she said her father had a good summer’s work sawing and working in the malt-house for the winter.

On April 11, 1826, Mary Jane wrote relaying messages from her Uncle John in Indiana:

Tell William we are astonished at him doubting the truths of our letters; we can assure him the letters don’t get altered before they reach him. America is as good as we have stated before; and he would find it so if he had heart enough to come….

She had messages for Aunt Gardiner regarding her sons, John, James, and William, and also wrote:

Give my love to Thomas and grandmother (Mary Green), at Rye; and ask her if she will come over here if I come over for her. Father and mother send their kind love to you and grandfather (Watson), and aunt and uncle Lawrence; tell them we wish they was here. Our love to aunt and uncle Freeland; tell them,—will not promise them,—I think if I can get a chance with the captain I came over with, I shall come back to England to visit them all in a year or two. Mother and father wish to be remembered to all their sisters and brother…. Aunt Mary has sent a letter to her brother John, and has received no answer.

Cobbett included one more letter that Mary Jane wrote again to her Watson grandparents 27 Dec 1827, this time addressed to them in “Footland,” (Footlands) to tell them she was “married on the 13th of November last, to a man in good circumstances” and that she was very comfortably situated. She neglected to name her husband, but called herself Mary Jane Coulson. Her husband, from records, was Thomas Coulson. She again enclosed messages from her Uncle John, that he had moved down river as low as the falls of Ohio, where they lived a year and a half, but were not satisfied with the country there, so returned to Aurora, Indiana in August 1827, and purchased 75 acres, a house and orchard.

Of the last of John’s letters transcribed for his book, Cobbett wrote:

That finishes the account of his progress; and there we find this English ‘pauper,’ of whom the Parish of Sedlescomb thought itself happy to get rid, seated firmly down on a piece of land of 75 acres, in a comfortable dwelling house, and having a good orchard of apples and peaches, having earned the money to make the purchase, and maintained his numerous family at the same time.

With respect to Mary Jane’s letters, Cobbett says she “does so much honour to her heart as well as her head,” and that her letters are “worthy of universal admiration.”

You know my methods, Watson. There was not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering traces, but very different ones from those which I had expected.*

* ~Sherlock Holmes (character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

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… Because nobody else will.

All my life, people have tried to make my name into “Julia Anne,” and while that’s a beautiful name too, it’s not mine. My last name was written down many incorrect ways too, including “Princess.” Now that I’m married, people try to make me “Julia Watson.”

When the topic of name spelling and family middle names came up recently, I received the following story by email from my mother, and it was something I don’t remember hearing before:

For many years the Recorder in Ringgold County wrote all the official recordings by hand. When I went to get a birth certificate, my name was spelled Patricia Anne, but I had always been told there was no ‘e’ on Ann.  And it wasn’t written clearly enough to really tell if it was just a swirl at the end of Ann or an actual ‘e’ so they issued it without, and spelled it Ann. Just a few years ago, Janet Judge, my cousin, found my birth announcement card that had been sent to her mother, and my mother had clearly written Patricia Anne… how soon she forgot. As I said before, she taught me how to spell and write my name when I was 3 years old, and there was no ‘e’ on Ann then, and never has been since… go figure!

The same thing with her name… She had always been told and gone by Elma Elnore but when she went to get her birth certificate, when she discovered she would need it for Social Security, the writing was smudged and she was told it looked like it was Elma Lenore… well, you can imagine her fury… her certificate was issued as Elma Elnore! Of course, everything she had ever had her name on was not as Elma Lenore… so I can understand her concern, as did they!

Back then, we were all at the mercy of whomever was recording it, and trusted they would get it right in official records… as we do today.  Then, it was a matter of translation, penmanship and spelling. Today, it’s a matter of translation, spelling, typos and leaving the corrections up to spell-check, which accepts anything that makes a word!

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My children’s heritage is very diverse with ancestors from many European countries. While most branches of the family have been in America since colonial times, a few branches arrived here much later. The most recent arrivals were my mother-in-law’s grandparents, whose families came from Norway and Denmark. We have not yet been able to trace her father’s Danish ancestry, but her mother’s Norwegian ancestry is well-documented — in old-style Norwegian.

Fortunately for us, a distant family member, Irene (Alvstad) Berven, traveled to Norway years ago, located genealogical records for the districts of Udlesvang and Kinsarvik and photo-copied hundreds of pages. She also copied about thirty pages by hand from the records of Øyford where a photo-copier was not available. She had the overwhelming amount of information for a number of years, but didn’t know how to read it. With some prior translations by Irene’s brother, Henry Alvstad, and with the help of my own modern Norwegian-English pocket dictionary, I was able to figure out enough of the language and abbreviations to trace Berven and Warberg (Varberg) lineage back to Vikings; however, the additional comments and corrections in old-style Norwegian were more difficult to translate. In 1993, I happened by chance to meet a young man from Norway with contacts that could help with that, so thanks to his efforts, many of the comments and corrections were successfully translated.

Ole and Guri “Julia” Berven

Ole and Guri Julia Berven

Ole Knute Berven was known in Norwegian church records both as “Ola Knutson Øvre Børvæ” and “Olav Knutson Børve Ø.” As a young adult in Norway, he earned his living as a fisherman on fishing vessels in the fjords. He recalled climbing the rigging and repairing sails — and dreams of doing better things. Øvre Børvæ was the ancestral farm in the county of Søndre Bergenhus (now called Hordaland) in the Udlesvang (present day Ullensvang) District of Hardanger where his family once lived and from which his family name was derived; however, it appears from the Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik, that Ole and most of his brothers and sisters were all born in Instanes, Kinsarvik District, Hardanger after his father inherited land and moved the family there the year of Ole’s birth. Julia, his wife, was from Øyfjord (also in the Hardanger area), and was known there as “Guri Larsdotter Varberg.” When she first came to America in about 1884, she apparently called herself “Julie Larson” and later Julia. After her parents and two of her three sisters came to America a few years later, her family became known the Warbergs and from then on, Julia gave her maiden name as Warberg too.

According to the History of Emmet and Dickinson County, Iowa, Vols. I and II (Pioneer Publishing Co., 1917), Ole came to America in 1882, first settling in Lee County, Illinois, where he worked as a farm hand. In 1884, he moved to Iowa for two years. In 1886, he moved to the Territory of Dakota, married Julia, and they remained there for about ten years.

Ole and Julia were married by a Justice of the Peace in Medora, Billings, Territory of Dakota (present day North Dakota). On their marriage certificate, he signed his name Ole Berven and she signed her name Julie Larson (probably Larsdotter anglicized to Larson); however, her family remembers her always being called Julia. Her children always knew her middle name was Anna, the same as her mother’s first name. Her father’s name was Lars Anderson Warberg (his obituary from Dickinson County, ND calls him Warburg). Although there are no known records for verification, there is family speculation that he may have also been called Lewis in America, as was a grandson Lars who was named in his honor, but was more commonly known as Lewis.

On their daughter Emma’s affidavit of baptism and confirmation, Julia signed her Norwegian name, Guri, but it is clearly followed by the initial “K.” There is still some confusion as to why the name appears as Guri K. when she always said her middle name was Anna, and we wonder if the initial might stand for Kjeaosen, her mother’s maiden name. It would be more understandable for her to have signed it with an initial “L” for Larsdotter. When my Berven family research first began in about 1981, the records of her various names led us to believe Ole had been married twice; however, we now know this to be false. Adding to the confusion, Ole had a sister Guro who was also known as Julia; however, she would have been Guro K. or Julia Olsen by that time.

According to Ole and Julia’s youngest son Ted, his parents knew each other in Norway, and when Ole left for America three years before Julia, he promised to send for her “as soon as he made his first million dollars.” Although Ole came to America empty-handed, he did to some degree realize his dreams of success. He may not have kept his promise verbatim, but he eventually married the girl he had known in Norway, and became “quite wealthy” for his time as an investor, farmer, and businessman.

Julia’s parents and her sister Sella (b. 1867), came to America in 1895. They settled in Belfield, Stark, North Dakota, about twenty miles east of Medora. Julia’s sister Brita (b. 1863) had already married in Norway by that time, and she remained there for the remainder of her life. Her other sister, Katarina (Katrina in Norwegian records; b. 1870) came to America in 1889.

The town of Medora, where Ole and Julia were married, was founded in 1883, by the Marquis de Mores, a French nobleman. It “grew by leaps and bounds, becoming overnight one of the wildest cow towns in the West, the sort of place, as Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, where pleasure and vice were considered synonymous. In New York, in an article about the Marquis and his efforts, the Times described Medora as a ‘thriving, bustling’ town with nearly one thousand people and a big future.” (David McCullough. Mornings on Horseback. Simon & Schuster, NY, 1981. 326.) The Marquis was accused of murder in 1884, and his empire began to crumble. The failure of an important stagecoach line from Medora to the town of Deadwood, along with the tragic winter of 1886-1887, proved to be the downfall of Medora’s future. During that year, the worst winter on record swept the Great Plains. There were blinding snows, and relentless, savage winds. “Children were lost and froze to death within a hundred yards of their own doors. Cattle, desperate for shelter, smashed their heads through ranch-house windows. The snow drifted so deep in many places that cattle were buried alive and temperatures hovered at about 40 below. People locked up in their houses could only wait and hope that elsewhere conditions were not so bad. A few who could not wait, blew their brains out.” (Ibid. 345.) Every rancher lost about seventy-five percent of his herd, causing a terrible economic hardship for the residents of the area.

Near Medora, Ole and Julia owned a boarding house for several years known as the “Berven Road House.” Julia ran the boarding house, feeding cowboys and railroad men while Ole worked for the Northwestern Railroad Company with several of his brothers. Their son George said, “hobos seemed to have mother’s boarding house marked. Often she would feed five or six of them every day with no pay for her efforts. She was afraid not to!” Native Americans also sought her hospitality. It frightened Julia to see “Indians” coming (not all in the area were friendly) and she would quickly draw the curtains so they would think no one was home, but out of childish curiosity, George would promptly pull them back revealing their presence! Taking a fancy to George, the women of the nearby tribe often gave him rides on their ponies which frightened Julia even more, as she feared they would kidnap him.

George recalled that whenever the Bervens butchered a cow, the “Indians” would invariably come asking for meat. “One day an old Indian came begging. He went out to the ice house where mother cut off a good slab of the lower quarter. The Indian shook his head and pointed to the upper portion. He wanted the very best beef.”

Ole was gone a lot of the time, working on the railroad. According to George, “one day a gaunt, hungry stranger, as pale as death, found him hiding in a culvert. A gun battle ensued and [Ole] was shot in the culvert.”

George told of another time when a “lean, pale fellow in his early twenties strolled into the Berven boarding house. He was an easterner, different from the usual type that drifted in,” and although he was average height for a man in those days (about 5′ 8″), he seemed very tall to young George. This man was Theodore Roosevelt, who later became the 26th President of the United States. He had gone west to build up his health, and “he and a friend stayed a long while with the Bervens.” George and his sister Anna, who recalled being about ages 6 and 7 at the time, said in their later years that they had often sat upon his knee while he tried to teach them how to read. He also played a major role in improving Ole and Julia’s ability to speak English.

Apparently Roosevelt developed quite a fondness for the Berven family, for George remarked that often when he and Anna played in their sand pile just below Roosevelt’s window, Teddy and his friend would throw nickels and dimes out the window to them. George said that he had a toy bank practically overflowing with money he got that way. Eventually Roosevelt left the Bervens and purchased some land near Medora where he ranched for a number of years. One Christmas, when George was still quite young, Roosevelt presented him with a large rocking horse that had genuine horse’s hair for its mane and tail, and its eyes were made of glass. Over time, Roosevelt built up his health and George said that no one was any handier with a six-shooter or could beat the future President when it came to riding a bronco. Ole and Julia kept a warm spot in their hearts for Roosevelt, and later named their youngest son Theodore in his honor. In 1963, an article about George’s life appeared in the Estherville [Iowa] Daily News, and in 1966, George was asked to appear on Gary Moore’s “I’ve Got a Secret” television program to tell about his contact with Teddy Roosevelt; however, George was 79 years old by then, in poor health, and he died shortly before he was scheduled to appear.

Homesteading on the Dakota prairie proved to be a difficult life for Ole and Julia. Those were the days when the west was a wild, lawless land. The Dakota Badlands were a refuge for all types of lawbreakers as well as a home for good, “God-fearing” men seeking to earn an honest living. North Dakota was admitted to the Union as a state on November 2, 1889. It is believed that Ole and Julia moved from the area of Medora and Belfield to Iowa around 1897. If that were the actual year, then they would have had at least four more children born in Medora. It is documented that Emma was born in Belfield in 1893.

Julia’s brother-in-law, Anton Anderson (Sella’s husband) was a rancher and banker in Belfield. He apparently loaned Ole and Julia enough money to go to Iowa and set up a homestead. It is believed that they first moved to Decorah, Iowa, but shortly after, Ole and Julia purchased 160 acres (Section 35) and started a farm in Swan Lake Township, Emmet County, near the small communities of Ringsted, Armstrong, Halfa, Maple Hill, and Gruver. They tilled and cultivated the land and the youngest three of their children (and possibly Oscar) were born on that farm. In 1929, they also purchased 44 additional creek-front acres across the road from their established property. According to the History of Emmet and Dickinson County, Iowa, Ole was very energetic and progressive. He was a trustee of Immanuel Lutheran Church, school director, an ardent Republican, and a self-made man who was highly respected in the community.

Their son Ted said that like many others, Ole lost much of his wealth during the stock market crash of 1929, but because he had kept large amounts of cash in his home rather than in banks, Ted was still able to go away to college and had money available to him for whatever expenses incurred.

Between 1984 and 1991, several family documents were discovered which are now in the possession of Shirley (Hansen) Watts, daughter of their child Alma. Two of the documents are affidavits of baptism and confirmation dated 1892, and 1906, for their son, Knud Ole Berven, who was known to us as Knute. The certificates were both written in old-style Norwegian, and on one is the following:

“Knud O. Berven födt den 22 Januar i Avret 1892 Daahs Attest af Foraldrene Mr. Ole Berven og Nuns Hustru Guri Berven blev den 30th Januar i Avret 1892 döbt i Medora, Billings Co., North Dakota.”

The wording on the document translates as:

“Knud O. Berven born the 22nd of January in the year 1892; Baptismal certificate from the parents Mr. Ole Berven and his wife Guri Berven; was baptized on the 30th of January in the year 1892 in Medora, Billings Co., North Dakota.”

Another document which was found was a hand-written marriage certificate for Ole and Julia, transcribed as follows:

Certificate of Marriage

Medora Dec 31th [sic], 1886

Territory of Dakota
Billings County} Before John Copeland
Justice of Peace

This certifies that Ole Berven of Medora, County of Billings, Dakota Territory, and (Ole Berven again, but scratched out) Julie Larson of Medora, County of Billings, Dakota Territory were united in holy matrimony, according to the ordinance of God and the laws of the Territory of Dakota at (left blank) on the Thirty First Day of December in the year of our Lord, One thousand, eight hundred and eighty six. I further certify that the said parties namely Ole Berven and Julie Larson are known to me to be the identical persons described; that I ascertained that they were of sufficient age to contract Marriage: that after due inquiry, there appeared no lawful impediment to such Marriage; and that the witness here to subscribed namely (left blank) and resides in Medora, Couty of Billings in said territory. Witness my hand this 31th day of Dec 1886.

(signed) E. E. Mikkelson

(signed) Ole Berven
(signed) Julie Larson
(signed) John Copeland
Justice of the Peace

Ole and Julia are both buried at Swan Lake Cemetery in Maple Hill, Emmet, Iowa. Julia’s newspaper obituary stated, “To this union was born ten children…” This was an error since there were actually eleven children. One son, Anton Elias, died young and a brother who was born after Anton’s death was given the very same name in his honor. We may only speculate that when the newspaper was given a list of the children’s names for her obituary, one Anton was assumed to be a duplicate of the same person’s name and was deleted. It is unusual, in America at least, for two children in the same family to be named exactly alike, but it was a common practice in the old country to honor a deceased child by naming one born after with the same name. Their children were: George (1887-1966), Anna (1889-1984), Lars “Lewis” (1890-1917), Knud “Knute” (1892-1918), Emma (1893-1930), Anton (1894-1901), Oskar “Oscar” (1896-1910), Johan “Joe” (1899-1974), Alma (1901-1981), Anton “Tony” (1903-1987) and Theodore “Ted” (1905-2007).

In 1990, a museum in the main terminal building opened on Ellis Island in New York to honor the millions of immigrants who came to this country. Ellis Island opened as the first immigrant station when the states turned the task of immigration control over to the federal government. It was in operation from 1892 to 1954. In the name of the Berven family, Lucille (Speak) Bennet made a contribution to support The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and in return, she was presented with official certificates of registration for her grandparents Ole and Julia. Although they apparently came to America before the Ellis Island immigrant station was opened, their names along with other immigrant relatives now appear in public display on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at the museum as a testament to the heroism and triumphs they experienced in coming to America.

Ættar-bok Sources: #295d, page 77 Ættar-bok for Udlesvang (1936); #157, page 106 and #150a, page 266 Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik (1931), both by Åmund Knutson Bu; Odda, Udlesvang and Kinsarvik. (Bottom Front Cover: “Utgjeve På Eigen Kostnad”; Inside Cover: “S. Botnens Boktrykkeri-Stord”). Ættar-bok for Øyfjord, #164d and #185a (probably also by Åmund K. Bu – my record copies from Øyfjord were handwritten and I have no page numbers).


p. 106:

157. Knut Olavson Børve Ø. [295d]

Kristi Jakobsdtr. Ystanes (150a)

Knut d., skifte 1896, 8 born [this conflicts with our family’s date of 21 Apr 1892; not sure which is correct]

Gift 1856

å. Gjøa Fødd 1856; Avliden 1882; Bustad (blank) [Her entire entry was added in someone’s hand after publishing]
a. Guro (g. m. Torvald Olavson frå Olso) Fødd 1858; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
b. Olav Fødd 1861; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
c. Kristi (g. m. Samson Tveit frå Odda) Fødd 1863; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
d. Jakob Fødd 1866; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)

p. 107 (Framhald):

e. Aslak Fødd 1868; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
f. Knut Olai Fødd 1871; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
g. Torbjørn Fødd 1873; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
h. Johanna Fødd 1878; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. ?)

p. 266:

150. Jakob Knutson Midnes (113i)

Domhilda Sjursdtr. Tveisme (117f)

Gift 1833

a. Kristi Fødd 1833; Avliden (blank); Busted: Instanes (157)
b. Knut Fødd 1835; Avliden 1907; Busted: Ystanes (170)

c. Gjøa Fødd 1838; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. 1864)
d. Marita Fødd 1841; Avliden 1901; Busted: ug. Ystanes

e. Lisbet Fødd 1849; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. 1871)
f. Joseffus Fødd 1853; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. 1873)
g. Sjur Fødd 1855; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)

Udlesvang (Ullensvang*):

Ø. Børvæ
p. 77:

295. Ola Sveinson Ø. Børvæ (284e)

Gjøa Olsdtr. Espæ (193d)

Gift 1813

a. Svein Fødd 1813; Avliden 1897; Busted: Ø. Børvæ (310)
b. Ola Fødd 1815; Avliden (blank); Busted:
Ø. Seksæ (345)
c. Atlåk Fødd 1820; Avliden 1844; Busted: ug. l
ærar Koparvik
d. Knut Fødd 1823; Avliden 1892
[this agrees with family’s date]; Busted: Instanes (157)
e. Anna Fødd 1825; Avliden 1910; Busted: Lote (201)

f. df. gj.
Fødd 1828; Avliden 1828

Øyfjord (Oifjord; present day Eidfjord**):


164. Anders Olson Varberg (147c)

Guri Tormosdtr. Røyso (128)

Gift 1823

a. Ola Fødd 1824; Avliden 1824
b. Ola Fødd 1825; Avliden 1845; Busted: ug Kom burt i fjellet
c. Tormo Fødd 1828; Avliden 1911; Busted: Lund (144)
d. Lars Fødd 1831; Avliden (blank); Busted: Varberg (185) [Came to U.S.A. after publishing]
e. Kristoffer Fødd 1833; Avliden (blank); Busted: Røyso (142)
f. Katrina Helvik Fødd 1837; Avliden (blank); Busted: Jodno (283) Hamre Sæbbe (241)
(no g.)
h. Torbjorg Fødd 1842; Avliden 1928; Busted: Jodno (283) Hamre Sæbbe (241) [Hamre Sæbbe may be meant for Torbjorg or omitted child “g.”]
i. Guri Fødd 1845; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.) Sæbbe (230)

185. Lars Anderson Varberg (164d)

Anna Maria Hansdtr. Kjeaosen (116c)

Gift 1858

a. Guri Fødd 1861; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
b. Brita Fødd 1863; Avliden (blank); Busted (blank)
c. Sella Fødd 1867; Avliden (blank); Busted: (U.S.A. 1895)
d. Katrina Fødd 1870; Avliden (blank); Busted: (U.S.A. 1889)


116. Hans Toreson Kjeaosen (114a)

1. Brita Åmundsdtr. Tveit (156c)
2. Ekkja Sella Tormosdtr. Litlatun (g. 1846)

Gift 1827

a. Marta Fødd 1828; Avliden 1919; Busted: Varberg (179)
b. Tore Fødd 1831; Avliden (blank); Busted: Kjeaosen (124)
c. Anna Maria Fødd 1834; Avliden (blank); Busted: Varberg (185)
d. Brita Fødd 1838; Avliden (blank); Busted: Lægreid (281)

* Udlesvang is a dialect pronunciation of the name Ullensvang (which means “the meadow of the Norse god Ull”). Ullensvang is a municipality in the county of Hordaland, at the innermost end of the Hardangerfjord (SE of Bergen). The history of the municipality, its farms and their owners is well documented in a “bygdebok” by Aamund Knutsson Bu: Ættar-bok for Udlesvang (reprint 1988), which you should be able to find at one of the university libraries in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa.

Jon Gunnar Arntzen,
Norsk Biografisk Leksikon
(Norwegian National Dictionary of Biography)

In Ættar-bok records, the county of Hordaland was then known as Søndre Bergenhus.

** Øyfjord has also been called Oifjord, but is present day Eidfjord. Julia’s birth location today would be written as Varberg, Eidfjord, Hardanger, Hordaland, Norway, but it is the same place. Hordaland is the county and Hardanger is the district.

Knut and Kristi Øvre Børvæ

Ole’s father, Knut, was a teacher (“lærar”) and/or school master for forty years. He taught at the Skjeggedal-Kvalnes school before 1861, later teaching at the school in Ulsnes-Sandvik until he retired.

In 1856, he married Kristi, and in 1861, he inherited an interest in the estate of a relative in Instanes.With his inheritance, he bought the “bruk” (a small farm, once part of a larger farm) from the estate. While in Kinsarvik, he was also the “klokker” (church servant), with various duties including bell ringing and leading songs. After retirement in 1885, he and Kristi made their home in Brotet, where they later died and are assumed to be buried.

His name was also recorded as “Knut Olavson Børve Ø.” in the Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik, and as “Knute Borvøe” in the History of Emmet and Dickinson County, Iowa, Vols. I & II (Pioneer Publishing Co., 1917).

In the Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik we find Kristi’s name recorded as “Kristi Jakobsdtr. Ystanes”; however, in America, Kristi’s descendants spelled her name in a variety of ways. Son Jacob’s Emmet County biography calls her “Christi Jacobson”; son Ole’s biography calls her “Christina Jacobson”; she has also been recorded as “Christi Ystenes,” “Christine Ystenes” and “Christina Ysternes.” Flora (Colton) Berven spelled her name “Christei” [sic] from letters signed that way by her husband’s aunt who was Kristi’s namesake, and was also known as “Christie.”

Knut and Kristi Øvre Børvæ

Knut and Kristi Øvre Børvæ

Lars and Anna Warberg

Besides the Ættar-bok records, about all the knowledge we have of Lars and Anna comes from Lars’ obituary from page one of the June 15, 1907 edition of the Dickinson Press, which spells his last name incorrectly and we believe gives the wrong year for their marriage (Ættar-bok for Øyfjord has record of 1858).


On Saturday, June 9, occurred the death of Mr. Lars A. Warburg [sic], four miles southwest of Belfield.

Mr. Warburg was born in Norway January 16, 1831. In 1862 [should be 1858] he was married to the surviving widow and to this union were born four daughters — Mrs. [Julia] Berven, living in Iowa; Mrs. [Brita] Peterson, still in Norway; Mrs. [Sella] Anton Anderson, four miles southwest of Belfield, and Mrs. [Katrina] August Johnson, at Taylor, all of whom survive the deceased.

In 1895 Mr. Warburg emigrated to America and for several years the family lived at Sully Springs. Later they removed to their present home, where the couple lived very exemplary Christian lives. Neighbors who knew the family well report that much time was spent in reading the Scriptures, which they loved so much, and in appreciation of their respect for the deceased, the whole community attended the funeral, which was conducted from the home by Rev. F. W. Gress of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal church, Dickinson, at 1 o’clock Tuesday, the 11th, and interment was made in the Belfield cemetery. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”

Lars Anderson Warberg

Lars Anderson Warberg

No photo of Anna is known to exist.

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Happy Father’s Day


Dads, Granddads, and Uncles!

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Although my own 2nd Great-Grandfather was wounded in battle during the Civil War and suffered terribly from those wounds for the remainder of his life, he did survive the war and return to his family. Another family member, whose story follows, was not so fortunate.

Lyman H. Needham, Co. K., 42nd Illinois

Lyman H. Needham, Sergeant, Co. K., 42nd Illinois

Sergeant Lyman H. Needham (a son of my children’s 5th Great-Grandfather Benjamin Cooley Needham by his second wife, Lois Huntley) was listed as an artist in Civil War military records. He was wounded and taken captive on September 20, 1863, the second day of the fighting at Chickamauga in northwest Georgia. On September 29, he was processed for confinement in Confederate prisons at Richmond, Virginia. The family first had direct news of his whereabouts in a communication from the regiment, now in the holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library at Springfield, Illinois. The fragment has no year and no signature, but reads as follows:

November 12th

Sergt. Needham was wounded on Thursday Sept 20th in the chin and is now a prisoner in Richmond, Va. His wound is not supposed to be serious, as all those who were dangerously wounded were brought within our lines under a flag of truce. As you know, Capt. Foster is also in Richmond and it is from him that we have intelligence of Needham.

Capt. Foster was Joseph Foster, Capt. of Company K of the 42nd Illinois. The text of Lyman’s first letter from Danville follows:

Danville, Va. March 18th, 1864

Dear Brother and Sister,

At last I have been permitted to hear from “home,” and I hardly know how to express my delight in hearing that “all are well.” I received the box of things you sent on the 16th inst. and everything came safe, and it is appreciated dearly. I am in very good health, and have been since I have been a prisoner. There is not a good prospect of a speedy exchange or parole, which is gratifying for us to learn. If this prospect should be blighted (and you will know it is soon as we shall) I want you to send me another box, with some of the same kind of articles and also some ham, crackers, socks, shoes, mustard, coffee, soap, colored handkerchiefs, tin cup, cheap pocket knife and lots of reading matter, also suspenders and anything else you see fit to send not contraband. I want you to write often and tell the rest of my folks to write to me. Tell me the loss in my company and where the regt now is. In sending a letter you should enclose ten cents to pay postage from City Point [Virginia]. How was I reported in the company? and when did you first hear from me? My respects to all who see fit to inquire about

Your Brother
Lyman H. Needham
Co. “K” 42d Ill. Infty.
Prison No 6. 1st Floor
Danville, Va.

Lyman wrote again from Prison No 6, 1st Floor, Danville to his father. By this date, many of his imprisoned comrades had been transferred to the new prison at Andersonville, Georgia. The text of that letter follows:

Danville, Va., April 10th, 1864

My Dear Father,

Thinking you would like to hear from me after a silence of seven long, long months, I will write a few words. I suppose you have heard when and how I was taken prisoner ere this, and will not give you an account of it at present. I should have written long, long ago, but I kept hoping that we would soon be exchanged, and then perhaps I might get a furlough and go and see you. Yet I will not wait longer, although I may get through as soon as my letter does, for it seems that a general exchange has been agreed upon, yet it seems to me that they work very slow about it. My health is very good and has been most of the time since I have been prisoner. My wound does not trouble me much, only when I take cold. The ball lodged in my right side and has not been extracted. I have received one letter and a small box of things from Eli’s folks and I was very good to get them. I guess I have written about enough for this time, and I will write again if we are not exchanged before a great while. My Love to all and I should be very glad to get a letter from you.
From your son,

Lyman H. Needham

Relatively soon after this letter, yet in April or perhaps in May, Lyman was moved to Andersonville. In late August, he was transferred to the Andersonville prison hospital where he died of scurvy, according to army prisoner-of-war records, on September 1, 1864. According to the family, his death and illness was due, not only to scurvy, but also to starvation and horrible conditions at the prison. Andersonville, or Camp Sumter as it was officially known, was one of the largest of many established prison camps during the American Civil War. It was built early in 1864 after Confederate officials decided to move the large number of Federal prisoners kept in and around Richmond, Virginia, to a place of greater security and a more abundant food supply. During the fourteen months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union Soldiers were confined there. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure to the elements. Originally intended to hold about 13,000, the largest number held at any one time was more than 32,000.

On July 9, 1864, Sgt. David Kennedy of the 9th Ohio Cavalry wrote in his diary:

Wuld that I was an artist & had the material to paint this camp & all its horors or the tounge of some eloquent Statesman and had the privleage of expressing my mind to our hon. rulers in Washington, I should gloery to describe this hell on earth where it takes 7 of its ocupiants to make a shadow.

Source: The Edge of American West

Andersonville Prison ceased to exist in May, 1865.

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LETTERS written by or to my 2nd Great-Grandfather, Richard E. Richards, who was born 2 Feb 1833 near Redditch, England in Sambourne, Coughton Parish, Diocese of Worcester, County of Warwick. He immigrated on the ship “Yorktown” to New York with the Charles Walford family on 28 May 1849; married his sweetheart, Sarah Walford, on 26 Mar 1856, in Peoria, Illinois; was naturalized 6 Nov 1860; and then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1862.

Company C, 125th IL Volunteer Infantry. Enlisted 14 Aug 1862; Date of muster: 3 Sep 1862; Wounded 27 Jun 1864 at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia; Discharged 18 Mar 1865 as Sergeant. At the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, he was wounded in the left knee and right heel from the same bullet. Due to poor medical care, gangrene set in requiring five operations, from which he nearly died. He was in hospitals from Sept. 1864 to March 1865, when he was discharged and sent home.  Kenesaw Mountain, where he was wounded, is 25 miles northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, and is famous as the scene of the Civil War battle between the Union troops under Sherman and the Confederate troops under Johnston, which took place in June 1864 and resulted in the repulse of Sherman with a loss of 3,000 men. He was also at the battles of Perryville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Resaca. Richard was discharged from the Army in Chicago, 18 Mar 1865, and returned to his home in Peoria on crutches. Being medically discharged, he received a pension of $5 per month for the rest of his life, and suffered from oozing wounds until his death in 1898.

Company C, 125th IL Volunteer Infantry. Enlisted 14 Aug 1862; Date of muster: 3 Sep 1862; Wounded 27 Jun 1864 at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia; Discharged 18 Mar 1865 as Sergeant. At the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, he was wounded in the left knee and right heel from the same bullet. Due to poor medical care, gangrene set in requiring five operations, from which he nearly died. He was in hospitals from Sep 1864 to March 1865, when he was discharged and sent home. Kenesaw Mountain, where he was wounded, is 25 miles northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, and is famous as the scene of the Civil War battle between the Union troops under Sherman and the Confederate troops under Johnston, which took place in June 1864 and resulted in the repulse of Sherman with a loss of 3,000 men. He was also at the battles of Perryville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Resaca. Richard was discharged from the Army in Chicago, 18 Mar 1865, and returned to his home in Peoria on crutches. Being medically discharged, he received a pension of $5 per month for the rest of his life, and suffered from oozing wounds until his death in 1898.

Copies of some of the following letters were given to me by my Aunt Anne many years ago, while others were provided to me in Nov 2008 by Howard Boswell, a descendant of Richard E. Richards through his daughter Mary, who was a sister of my great-grandmother Fannie (Richards) Tennant.

I posted a few of these previously, but after receiving several more and finally getting them transcribed, I wanted to post them in the order they were written. Most were previously transcribed either by Howard or Anne, and the few that weren’t — 3 or 4, if I remember correctly — I transcribed myself. None of the previously typed transcriptions were in digital form, so after scanning those with optical character recognition, I only had to make a few corrections. Some words are missing or guessed at for various reasons: sometimes the copies are too faint to read; sometimes there were folds, holes or tears in the originals; and sometimes poor alignment by the original copier left words or entire sentences cut off. If anyone has access to copies of the original handwritten letters and can provide missing words or make corrections, please do so.  If you don’t have access to copies, but would like them, please contact me. Keep in mind, though, that my copies are probably copies of copies and one can just about go blind trying to read some of them — although once scanned, I did my best to digitally enhance them so they were easier to read.

In the following transcriptions, I’ve corrected spelling or added complete words where he used abbreviations in some instances and changed “&” to “and.” His letters are a joy to read. I’m told there were about 60 in all. I wish we had the rest! If anyone still has the originals, I’d love to have the opportunity to scan them. Even if they are so brittle they fall apart once opened, I believe it better to have what we can of them than to preserve them unopened and have their contents lost to us forever.

Garret Co Ky Oct 17 ’62

Mr. Chas. Walford Junior
Dear Bro.

I dropped you a line some 3 weeks ago from Louisville, since which time we have been marching, driving Bragg’s forces before us. On the 8th he made a stand near Perryville and gave us a pretty hard fight, the acct. of which you have probably rec’d ere this.

The Battle line was about 17 miles long. We were on the right wing where the firing commenced about 3 o’clock in the morning. Our Reg. was about a 1/4 of a mile off when the pickets opened fire. About day light they planted their Batteries and we were put to support the 2nd Ill, after canonading for a while, firing on our end for the present ceased and on the left wing (where the heaviest of the fighting was done) they opened in good earnest and cannon and musketry roared unceasingly until probably 4 o’clock P.M. when the Rebels made a most desperate attempt to break through over our right wing, and such cracking of musket and Roar of Cannon you never heard, and of which you can have but little idea. This lasted about an hour when the Rebels retreated, much to their disappointment, for they believed (as we ascertained from Prisoners that there were only a few raw troops placed there and would run as soon as a good volly was fired into them). Our Reg. was all this time laying on our faces waiting for orders to rise and fire, which however did not come ’til just before the retreat and we had not the satisfaction of firing a gun upon them, but only seeing them run and our shell follow them ’til they were out of sight. 8 in our Reg. were wounded, 1 killed and from the way the Bullets whistled round our heads, it would seem that half of us must have been killed had we been on our feet. Lt. Col. Magie of the 86 Ill. had his Horse shot. Kleffman had his Arm broke. Alf McKinny of Kingsy was wounded in the leg and 1 of the Grahams was wounded. I have not ascertained exactly how many on either side were lost, but I suppose the loss on both sides, Killed and wounded, could not be less than 5,000. I was over a part of the Battlefield on Friday (the Battle was Wednesday) The dead had commenced to smell offensive and looked bad. It is a hard sight. You may be sure I had enough without going very far over the field. The rebels are not uniformed except with clothes taken from our men. Our men have buried all of the Rebels Killed at Perryville – 2,070 there are. I understand 1700 of our men lay wounded at the hospital and 1600 of the Rebels left besides what they carried off. 700 of our men I understand are killed. This is as near as I can tell but it may not be correct by a good deal. We know but very little here not 1/2 so much as we did at home. I should be glad to hear from you and I wish you would tell me how things are going and what you think of matters and things. We know little further than just our own Division. There have been a great many Prisoners taken and Rebels (lay?) closed in our line of March the last 2 weeks.

Oct 23rd since I wrote the above. We have again been marching hard. Where we are going to we cannot tell. They keep us in total darkness. We don’t know an hour ahead what is before us. Today we have not moved any as yet and it is tolerably late. I think it probable we shall stay here tonight on a hill in the woods. We were raised at 4 o’clock this morning and ordered to get ready to March at 6, and after standing a while with our knapsacks on were told we should not leave ’til further orders. The thing is not managed right. It looks to me like running mens legs off and in fact killing our own men for nothing. Our baggage weighs 50 or 60 lbs and they sometimes drive us 20 miles a day. Last night I was the worst tired I ever felt I think, but today I feel pretty well. My general health is good and my appetite good. My feet get very sore marching. The roads in Ky are very hard, made out of broken stones like those in England, that is the turnpikes, and it is on them we generally travel. We think we are going back to Louisville, Ky. or Nashville, Tenn. We have come back about 60 miles (in the direction of another fortress?) I hoped to get some rest after a while. I wish you would write me soon and tell me all about what is going on there. Such rumors here. (Truth bad, and news?) that has kept us in commotion all the time and truth in them. The chief rumor of late is that there is an extra session of congress and they are trying to make peace. It may be so. I hope it is, but I dare not believe it. We get plenty to eat and I get along with the pain and fatigue pretty well. I live in hope to get home by spring. Kind love to all. Hoping to hear from you, my dear bro.

Your Aff’t Bro
R. E. Richards

I must write to Sarah and it is late. Excuse haste and errors. Save your newspaper.

Short on paper, he wrote this letter in two directions, first filling both sides and then turning the pages sideways and writing over what he had previously written in the letter. The “Danville folks” refer to his mother’s sister, Jane (Steward) and  her husband Henry Smith in Danville, Vermilion, Illinois (not Danville, Virginia). “W. S.” is William Smith, their son (his cousin), in Company A of the 125th Illinois.

Nashville Tennessee Dec. 3rd ’62

My Dear Wife,

Your welcome epistle of the 18th Ult came to hand day before yesterday. I was feeling Anxious about you. W.S. had a letter a few days back but there was not a word about you in it. Aunt thinks it strange Richard does not write. I fancy R’d will not trouble the Danville folks much with correspondence or otherwise hereafter. I do not nor do I expect to feel right towards them. Wm. and I are not very sociable. I do not run after him much and it is very seldom he comes in to see me. It is quite a relief in my mind to know that you are at home safely and as well as you are. Try my dear girl to Keep up your spirits and feel happy and your bodily health will be better. I don’t intend for mental depression to wear out my physical strength. Of course I do sometimes feel a little lonesome but I endeavor to look more at the bright than the dark side and keep up a lively hope for happier days to come.

My health has been good ever since I left and I never expect to have as hard marching again if we are out 3 years. The weather has generally favored us, but we have had some pretty hard weather too. Yesterday our Reg’t was out on Picket. There was some little shed places just up against the fence but the Reg’t we relieved were accompanied with Body lice and being affraid to sleep in the little quarters, the most of us slept out in the open air thinking we had rather encounter rain and cold than sleep in the lousy old nest of others. It Rained through the night considerably, but my good old oil cloth kept Wolf and I dry. We slept beneath it with my Cartridge Box for a Pillow while the storm pelted the outside of our Bed. We slept comfortably whenever we got a chance. We stand guard you know by turns. Sometimes we have to stand on our Post nearly all night. I don’t think that we shall leave here at present. We are about 70 miles South of Nashville. Did you get the $2.50 from Gilman, the balance of money coming to you at Danville? How much money have you left? I don’t expect to get any money ’til about the 1st of Jan.

I don’t need anything particular except Paper and Stamps. Those are hard to get. I have not suffered yet for want of food. We do not get quite as good Rations as we did awhile back but I shall be well satisfied if we never get worse. I got a letter from N.Y. a while back and am sorry to hear that Mrs. R is still a cripple. She tells me she wrote 2 letters to you and rec’d no answer. Did you get the letters at Trivoli? I wrote to Tom and Father from Bowling Green. I have written to Chas. twice and to you about every 2 weeks. Did you get the 1 with a piece of stuff in and directed on an enclosed Envelope to Trivoli? I have 6 of your letters and have I know lost some but I think there was one or two letters miscarried. My last letter to you was written two weeks ago last unday. Our Overcoats cost seven Dls 20 cts. Dress Cts [Illegible] 71 cts. Pants $3.03, Cap 63 cts, Socks 26 cts, Shoes 1 dollar 94 cts, Drawers 50 cts. My Bill of clothing amounts to twenty-two Dollars and a half thus far. I have worn out 1 pair of Shoes and got the second. Tell Henry Binnian that Col. Gumnip has been Court Martialed on a charge of stealing silverware and sending the same home to his wife. I don’t know how he will come out. They treated you kindly at Decatur. I am grateful to them for it. I hear but little about the southern feeling in regard to Lincoln’s proclamation. I have heard Citizens say that they thought the south would be better off without their slaves. Newspapers do come by mail but they are very apt to fail. C. Magie has been quite sick with measles for some time. I have not heard from him lately. He is at Nashville. Write soon and often. Give my affectionate love to all friends. I shall be very glad to hear from any of them.

Many kisses for my dear little Boys. God bless them and you all. Tell me all the news when you write. Hoping that you and all friends are well. Accept My dear wife the unceasing love of
Your affectionate Husband,

Rich’d E. Richards

Nashville, Tenn. Jan. 1st ’63

My Dear Wife,

This is New Year’s day, a bright pleasant sunny day. All is calm in nature but the boom of the cannon is at this moment convulsing the heart of many a poor Soldier. Yesterday and last night I was on Police Guard. A few miles South of us was a bloody and hot engagement which is still going on. We can hear the booming of the cannons. The result of yesterday’s engagement we have not yet heard. We have conflicting reports we hear this A.M. that our men have forced them from and are occupying their Rifle pits. I hope by tomorrow to hear of their occupying Murfreesboro. We are all quiet here. For the last 2 mornings we have been called out at 3 o’clock in case of an attack by a detached Body of the Enemy which it has been thought were hanging around with the calculation when our army advanced of slipping in upon and taking this place. But should they make the attempt I think they will not make much of it. I don’t apprehend they will try it. You will remember Jack Charles. He was taken prisoner by the Rebels a few days ago while out with about 200 men replaceing the Railroad. They were all captured and 110 Wagons loaded with provisions were burned. Our men captured a whole Brigade of the Rebels last Monday (I think). I should have written a few days sooner but the R.R. has again been torn up between here and Louisville and the mail has not passed either way for about a week. It is expected that the cars will go through tomorrow. I shall then look for a letter from you and will forward 1 also.

I wrote a week ago last Sunday. I rec’d Father’s and yours and will answer Father’s soon. I have not seen any of the 86th Boys since we came here so I cannot say how they are. I am well, but a few days ago I was rather ailing. A good many of the Boys in our Reg have the janders [jaundice]. I have always been ready for duty so far and pray that I may always be so and that I may come home sound and well. May God grant that the present year may restore peace and prosperity to our land. Peace is longed for by all. God speed the day that brings it. I hope you keep up your spirits and I know you will not forget to pray for yourself and me. This is a consolation. May the spirit of the Lord Jesus dwell richly in the heart of each. This is a hard place to pray, surrounded by cursing and oaths sacrilege and confusion. I will trust in the Lord while I have a being and I do earnestly thank him for his mercy and goodness to me thus far. I feel thankful that our Reg was called to this place and saved at least from this present battle which I think must be a bloody one. I found my postage Stamps I lost when I 1st left home. They were in a little secret pocket in my pocket Book. I wish you would in your next tell me how you are getting along, where you are staying and how much money you have. Please tell me too how Frisby is getting along with my notes and c. I hope you are all well and happy. God bless and protect you all. Give my aff’t love to all and hoping by spring to enjoy the society of you all. God bless my dear little Boys. Kiss them for Pa and tell them to be good little Boys. I am glad to hear that they pray for Pa. I wish you all a happy New Year and now my dear Sarah accept the undying love of Your Affectionate Husband

R. E. Richards

Jan 2nd a.m. we have had no reliable information of the result of the Battle but it is believed that our men took Murfreesboro at the point of the bayonet yesterday morning.

Nashville June 6th ’63

My Dear Sarah,

Time flies fast. The weeks seem to pass quickly and I hope that each succeeding one brings you a letter from me. I write about once a week, but sometimes I am almost obliged to allow it to pass a few days over the time. My last was dated 30th and the preceding one was enclosed with $5 to [illegible] and not numbered on the 21st Ult. I can’t give you much news in each, for what I tell you one week generally applies to or covers the news of the next. There is some little change in our duties. We have for 2 weeks been guarding trains to Murfeesboro but now I understand we have got to go at something else. What it will be I don’t know. We have had to do a little work on the Fortifications the last week. They have several hundred Negroes working on the different fortifications round this city. There was a little fight at Franklin day before yesterday (15 miles from here) the result of which I have not learned. It was reported here yesterday that our men took 1700 prisoners and the Rebs took from us 105 mules but this is not reliable. I am anxious to hear of the fall of Vicksburg. There has been a tremendous battle there. I should like to know the address of the [illegible] I know in the 86th. That Reg’t is here.

I am glad to hear that Freddy [illegible] to school, became well and is a good boy and my dear little Eddy too. I should love to see them and hope the time is not too distant when we shall be permitted to unite and hear the sound of peace proclaimed throughout the land.

We get plenty to eat I don’t think it is worthwhile sending a box. The shirts I should like very well but I can do very well without them. I have the 2 I fetched from home yet, but they are getting a little rotten. Shall have to draw some. I have drawn a blouse, light coat and a straw hat. I thought of getting my likeness taken and sending to you but they charge so high for them. I am about out of the notion. I should like to send it if it did not cost so much.

The wheat between here and Murfreesboro looks bad. Won’t go over 5 or 6 bushels [illegible] the most of the land is lying idle. What little corn there is looks well. I think of nothing of importance to relate. Keep up your spirits dear Sarah. it will be better for you, for me, for all. Nothing is gained by being down-hearted. Let what may come. Let us therefore try to be happy, trust in God, and foster with great care hopefulness. Continue to give my affection to all with kisses for the little ones and believe me.

Your affectionate husband,

R. E. Richards

This letter seems to have contained some dialog that either Richard or Sarah later decided to keep private, as some of it is blacked out.

McAffee’s Church, Georgia
January 5th ’64

My Dear Wife,

In my last to Father W I promised to give you in my next a brief sketch of our trip from Ringgold, Georgia around through East Tennessee and back to our old camp at the Ford. I have delayed writing longer than I intended partly on account of writing once to Fanny on the 24th Dec by which I thought you would hear from me, but chiefly from the inclemency of the weather and our unsettled condition, but to fulfill my promise I will fo back to the 28th of Novr we were then near Ringgold. In the morning it rained hard for some time during which we held our loads, expecting every moment to start. At length the order was given and we pushed out. The roads were very slippy and muddy. We marched back towards Chattanooga several miles and camped in the woods for the night. on the 29th we ascertained that our destination was East Tenn. and the purpose was to interrupt Longstreet. It was a very cold windy day and being poorly clad in thin summer blouses the wind seemed to cut through us. That day we had a mountain pass to go through. We bent our way towards Chattanooga. Government rations gave out and we lived off the country through which we passed. Got plenty of corn meal and meat, but had poor conveniences for cooking the former. On the afternoon of the 8th it rained hard. We got wet. The mud was [illegible] top [illegible] we had a miserable time. Marched ’til after dark and camped on the Hiawassee River. Was fortunate in getting a lot of corn blades which made us a good bed. Here we laid 6 days doing Picket duty. The weather generally pleasant, we had a slight rain on the 12th and on the 13th a hard rain on the 15th we again [illegible]. It was a pleasant day. 16th cold. We marched ’til after dark and before we reached camp it commenced raining and was a complete wet night. We had a bad time. Camped near the Gap, which we passed through on the morning of the 17th. The streams were sollen and it was difficult getting along. The roads were bad for a while. We then struck the Railroad which we followed to Chattanooga, which place we reached about 3 o’clock p.m. on the 18th. The bridge was out of repair. Several thousand men to cross the River and only one little ferry boat to carry them across.

I stood around ’til I was nearly frozen, then by a little shenanigan got in with another Brigade and succeeded in getting across the river and reached camp at the Ford about sunset and slept comfortably in our old shanty; some of the boys did not get in ’til next day. We found there our blankets from Nashville. My things came all safe except a bunch of letters. One box of clothing was lost entirely. We drew some new clothing and were fixed up comfortably. We stayed there over Christmas, had no duty at all to do. Christmas night it rained hard and the next morning we marched with all our clothing. We had loads big enough for mules. The roads were very muddy and it rained all day. We reached here a little before night and found a dense thicket of pines where we are now camped. It rained the next day and has been very bad weather for us to fix up our Quarters, but we have got up a pretty comfortable shanty and more more settled. We were on Picket on New Years Day. It and the day before and the day after were exceedingly cold, blustery and uncomfortable. We did not get fixed up in our little house ’til yesterday. The medicine you sent me I lost. The bottle by some means, got broke in my knapsack and the stuff run all over my things. I don’t like liquid medicine with no better place to keep it than I have here. When I last wrote you I was in a hurry. I did not reply to yours which reached me the day we left the Ford first. In reference to (blacked out words) I have only to say that you have (blacked out words) without I think (blacked out words). I assure you I had no (blacked out words). I did not for a moment dream of (blacked out words) any (blacked out words) but (blacked out words) object to my writing (blacked out words) it is enough. I will do so no more – or not at least ’til I see you, probably never. If I have done wrong I am sorry and hope you will pardon me. The mittens you sent fit me nicely. You paid more postage on them and the medicine than was necessary. Charley Smith got a pair of heavy buckskin gloves through the mail for 6 cents while you paid 18 for my light mittens and 24 cents for the medicine. It is bed time. I will look over your letters tomorrow and if there is anything to answer I’ll answer it. For now adieu.

Your affectionate husband

Battles participated in by the 125th Reg. Illinois Inf.
Chaplain Hill,
October 8, 1862

September 18th, 19th, and 20th, 1863

November 24th and 25th, 1863

Co. C 125th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Inf.
Camp at Lee and Gordon’s Mills
March 20th ’64

Dear Wife,
This is Sunday morning. It is a pleasant but cool day. We shall have Inspection of Arms soon. I wish it was over so I could write uninterrupted. It is a little over a week since I wrote you. We were then expecting soon to be relieved and go back to camp, but we are here yet. We have had some quite cold weather here the last week. Everything is quiet here in the neighborhood of Ringgold. I understand they skirmish a little occasionally, but from movements generally, I am induced to think that this is going to be a standpoint for some time. We shall probably be moved here and there but I think we shall not be apt to have any heavy marching to do this summer and I sincerely hope such may be the case bit I believe this summer’s campaign is going to be an active one and I look for startling news from some quarter before very long, maybe from the vicinity of the Rebel Capitol. I understand there is a scheme on foot to get this brigade into the [illegible] service but I don’t know what will turn out. I hope it will not reenlist, for I feel afraid you would not be favorable to my reenlistment and my mind is pretty well made up on this subject.

$400.00 and a furlough for 30 days would be no inducement for me to bind myself for 3 years more contrary to your wishes but if I was single and the Regiment went into the Veteran service, under some circumstances I might be induced to go with them. Should the Regiment go into the service I don’t know what they will do to those who don’t enlist, whether we shall be allowed to serve out the balance of our term in the Reg’t or whether they will transfer us. Non-commissioned officers may be ordered to the ranks, but come what may, I don’t think I shall become a Veteran unless you think it wise for me to. Write as soon as this reaches you and give me your opinion and feelings in response to it.

I dreamed last night that my dear little Freddy was dead. I do not generally think much of dreams but I shall be anxious to see the next letter. God grant that it may not be and I hope he is well.

With reference to our religious progress in the Reg’t I have some good news to tell you. We have a new religious organization among us called the Soldiers Christian Union of the 125th Reg’t. We have about 28 members and the opportunity to join has been given only 2 nights. We have had prayer meeting nearly every evening for over a week with good [illegible]. Several have, I trust, been soundly convicted. I was not there 2 or 3 nights having a bad cold I did not think it prudent to sit so long in the cold night air bareheaded. My cold is better. Hoping you are all well- with aff. love to all–My dear wife

Your affectionate husband

(Assumed to have been written in the vicinity of Gordon’s Mills, Georgia)

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

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).

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. In the postscript, “C.” probably refers to Sarah’s brother Charles.

Gordon’s Mills
April 29th ’64

My ever Dear Sarah
Since writing you a week ago I have rec’d 2 letters from you. One on the 24th the other on the 26th. They were welcome and I feel happy to think that you are better in health and sincerely do I hope you may still continue to mend until your health is entirely restored. We have for several days been very busy fixing up and decorating our Camp with evergreens. I assure you it looks splendid and there are some novel specimens of ingenuity occasionally displayed, such as vessels driven by the wind. They sail round the pole and just above them is a man turning a crank working away like a good fellow. On another pole is a revolving swing, on another [illegible] worked by the same power. Our camp is laid out in streets of a regular width and along each we have set out 2 rows of pine trees and at the entrance in front, every street is arched over with Cedar with the letter of the Co. in the centre. One Co. has a Dog made of the same material, another has an Eagle set on the top we have the figures 125 cut out in one side of a cracker box and bright colors of red white and blue pasted over them, which show plainly in the day and at night we light up the box which shows the figures plainly at night. this will give you an idea of how we are fixed, but I am sorry to say there is a strong prospect of having to leave it very news you will not relish. neither do I, but you and I can’t help it so we must make the best of it. The 86th and 52nd have both built a meeting house, large and comfortable for warm weather. Ours has been enlarged. Religion is alive among us. About 180 have united with our Society, the 86th organized a society last evening called the association and about 35 united. Our friend Buesing is detailed to act for the time being as Chaplain, thereby relieved of the duties of a Soldier. He does pretty well, but is not generally liked. We shall probably be paid again next week. There is 4 months due. I don’t know whether we shall over 2. In answer to your question how tall I am I can say I don’t think I leave grown much the last 20 months, so I suppose I am about 5 feet 10 in. I think we were married on the 26th just 2 weeks after Chas. See if it is recorded in the Bible. I think absence increases the affections of those truly devoted to each other upon the principal that labor makes rest more sweet. I rec’d the large envelope and fool’s cap. Thank you for the pills, etc. I had 3 likenesses taken day before yesterday. 2 1 herewith send the one standing for Mother, the other one for yourself. I will send to England. The weather now is very warm. Give my love to all with kisses for little ones.

Your affectionate husband
R. E. Richards

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


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. It should be noted that Ellen was called Helen on her baptismal record, but Richard and family always referred to her as Ellen, both verbally and in writing.

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

Although a portion was copied attached to an unrelated letter, this first and middle pages of a letter in similar, but smaller handwriting appears to be written to Richard by an aged friend or relative in Stourbridge, England. At first, finding only the middle section, I thought it might be part of a response from the nephew addressed previously, but then I realized the nephew was Richard and the letter immediately above was written to him by his Aunt Jane (Steward) Smith, wife of Henry Smith, and not written by Richard himself. I’m not sure who wrote the following:

Stourbridge January 16th, 1879

Endeared friend,

Presumption is the bane of reason, but honesty is the best policy, as it is the forerunner of precedence, an instructor of ignorance and a teacher of discipline. Honesty has a happy art of enforcing the duty of regulating our passions, rectifying the distractions of a perturbed mind, and directing the attention to that Invisible, Incomprehensible Being with whom to be on terms of friendship is to win indeed and piously trust in heart, ‘Tis God’s council that is of infinite worth and so essential to our obtaining that information we in every stage of life so much need.  And if persons whom the almighty has blest with reason dare to act in the more important concerns without it, they do it at the peril of their own souls and must viscerally expect to smart for such follies. In this instance I am inclined to think we neither err. And I trust affection does not bereave us of a right judgment, as it has not been without serious consideration I have made such to you, — so it has not been without deliberation that I have gained any satisfactory answer. Perhaps the more likely is such work as is done deliberately to be done substantially. Let us then walk by wisdom’s precepts which will teach us to cast the mantle of love for each other’s actions, that none of the trivial occurrences of life may have a tendency for us to look at each other—…


… that a blessed home of conscious happiness is prepared for the finally faithful in a world of changeless, ceaseless beauty where sickness and death and separation is no more felt and feared.

A week or two ago in class meeting, I heard an aged brother say it is a blessed thing to be old for then we may know that the race will soon be run and the (conflict undealt?) and although true, as you look about us and reflect upon the past, how conscious we become of the fact that comparatively few remain long enough in the world to really get old. The greater part of your family have crossed the [illegible] line of (time?) and entered eternity when their parents linger. When they should have vicissitudes and changes to still (battle with of this inconstant life?). As I look back to the days of my boyhood and remember having heard my friends talk of you in far off America with the danger and conflict confronting you and the uncertainties of life in that “desert” waste, it (brought?) words of (a foreigner?). How strange it seems as I follow up step by step along the uneven and sometimes difficult and dangerous pathway by which we have been (unfaltered?) to find myself an old gray-headed man with sight getting (dim?) and step slow and still (privileged to converse fondly?) with one who in boyhood I was led to regard as probably lost in the wilds of a foreign land, and although troubles have sometimes (scorned?) like a deluge to come upon you yet the Lord has given strength sufficient for the day of trial and kept you by his power and I just assumed that you can still say that through all and amid all the changes and difficulties of life the Lord has dealt graciously with you and that you feel yet that there is much, very much to be thankful for… (words cut off on copy)

Mineral Springs
Ottumwa, Iowa
Aug. 1, ’90

Dear Fannie and Geo.

This has been another very warm day. This morning for the first time in my life I was parboiled in steam, shut up in a small enclosure, light, all but a hole in the wall through which my head protruded, and the little vacant space left was filled up with cloths. The steam turned on in which for about 7 minutes I was enveloped ’til I felt ready to cry out enough and felt like the (pain?) extended clear through me and were all pretty well opened up but failed to loosen those functions which have so long been locked up.

After dinner today, the Dr. effectually washed out the badder for the 2nd time and tomorrow he intends to do so twice. It is by no means a pleasant operation but if it will do me any good I am willing to endure it patiently. I have not taken any medicine yet but think he intends to commence doping me tomorrow. I can’t form much of an idea what they are going to do with or for me, but I think I will be able to judge something about it soon. The Dr. is a very pleasant man, practices considerable outside of this Institution. This is quite a large building, but not very well occupied. There appears to be plenty of attendants, but very few patients.

I have a very pleasant Room in N.W. corner of West L., well ventilated with windows, 1 in the N. and other in West, and at this time of day between 4 and 6 o’clock p.m. the sun shines in and makes it pretty warm. I sweat pretty freely as I write.

It looked quite promising for rain this morning and did sprinkle a little several times, not to amount to anything, and all passed away and the sun came out real hot. I accompanied the Dr. on his rounds this morning and held his Horse while he made his calls.

They have plenty to eat here and what is good. Watermelon on dinner table for dessert all that is pleasant and nice for the outward man, but no spiritual sustenance, no church, apparently outside of my own soul, but even here where I see no familiar face and no other sympathizing voice salutes my ear, that of the blessed spirit, still speaks in soothing accents of hope and cheer to my soul.

Don’t neglect your Family and private devotions, and as you approach the mercy seat remember to ask that our Father in Heaven will give to me, to you, and to us all sustaining grace for all the trials of life, and with my own uplifted prayer say goodnight.

Saturday, Aug. 2, ’90

It is still oppressingly hot. I feel a little weak and languid today. I have again gone through the steam bath cooking process, the affect at present is not very invigorating. The Dr. seems to think that indications are favorable to obtaining relief, at least in a measure. The urine today has not so much of that strong, stale smell about it as it had, and then was not so much color of stains in washing out the bladder this morning and the operation was less painful today. I am getting along here all right. Had a little annoyance yesterday from a drunken fellow who wanted me to play 7-Up with him, but didn’t amount to much. The surroundings and general conversation are not very congenial to my feelings and wants, but will do the best with it I can. I look to that source from whence we may draw consolation under all the varied circumstances and conditions of life.

I hardly think I shall stay here longer than 2 weeks, but of course will have to be governed by circumstances.

Give my love to all, my thoughts are often with you and I trust that our prayers will mutually ascend for each other and that God’s blessings may be enjoyed by each and all is the hope and prayer of

Your Aff’t Father

Direct to me at Mineral Springs, Ottumwa, Ia. at P.O.

Danville, April 20, ’92

Dear Nephew,

We have been looking for a letter from you for some time in answer to a newspaper sent to you last Christmas as I supposedly [sent], but I fear it was mislaid at home and neglected to be posted or you failed to get it in some way. It contained the sad news of the death of our dear one, Sarah Elizabeth Coten. She was taken from us December 25th at 2 o’clock in the afternoon after a long spell of sickness. She kept (limber?) most of the time from Oct. and was (reduced?) and very low and weak for some time before she died. Henry and myself was very low at that time with grip and not able to visit her for several weeks, and was unable to attend her (service?).

Her (Betsie?) is keeping house for them and is a very (steady?) Industrious girl. She is 20 years old and [illegible] get along pretty well. The Lord will take care of them I trust as he has cared for me in a foreign land so very far from my dear ones at home. To return to ourselves, we are much improved in health. Henry is never better. I am still quite poorly. I have messy troubles to contend with. I have for some time suffered very much. (Neuralgia?) of the stomach and bronchial (infections?) and I feel that I am not about [illegible] to work if I was [illegible] to do it, would go [illegible] hard work and I think you know my age last Sunday was my 77th birthday, the first one that ever came on Easter Sunday. Saturday was school election and myself with many others (were allowed the first privilege of voting?) Our ticket won this (time?)… (words cut off on copy)… having all our main streets curbed and paved, it will cost us a large amount of money. We are now building a new house on the old lot of six rooms to (let?). It is very nice. I would like to move in it and rent this one we live in. Father objects to leaving the old house. I hope your health is restored to you. Again, the last I rec’d from you was written Aug. 24th ’90. You had just returned from the Mineral Springs. I hope you found lasting relief from (mens?). It seems a great affliction that is hard to cure. Many are suffering with it here. Many have died with grip, sometimes four or five buried in one day, and the sickness has affected some the Doctors say. I must conclude. I hope this imperfect letter may find you and yours all well. We all join in love to them all. Write soon. Let me hear from (words cut off on copy).

Richard Edward Richards (1833-1898)

Richard Edward Richards (1833-1898)

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A letter written by Granddad X. T. to Nana on her sixty-seventh birthday:

Jan. 22, 1966

To My Sweetheart —

I do not want to appear nostalgic, but I have many memories of our lives together. School days — summer nights. The first time I kissed you. Separations — Reunions, misunderstandings, understandings. Moments of ecstasy — Disappointments and on and on, but all of these have helped us to build a life together. Thru it all we have clung together and become as one and from this union, our children came and dwelt among us. You were always closer to them, because you gave so much more than I — They were nestled in your bosom. You nurtured them. You suffered with them, but somehow God in his infinite love and wisdom has made me, too a part of the plan and when you and the children suffer, I suffer too. I love you and I love them. Sometimes I think I am almost selfish for all of you. I feel so inadequate, but I hope you and the children will all understand and when time ends on earth, I trust we will all extend our hands to the Divine and walk together, serving him who has been so gracious, so kind, and so forgiving.

My love — my all, and many more Happy birthdays!


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I found these quite accidentally on Ancestry.com while researching my Scott and Tennant lines today. What a thrill I felt when I realized for sure they were my 3rd-Great Grandparents!

Susannah Scott Tennant

Susannah Scott Tennant (1813-1886)

George Alexander Tennant

George Alexander Tennant (1807-1892)

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(A recent story addition to my Great-Grandparents Glasier and Louisa‘s pages on my online family tree.)

Louisa and Glasier were my father’s paternal grandparents. I never knew them, but heard stories about them over the years from those who loved them.

Louisa moved from Pennsylvania to Iowa with her very close family in 1867.  On the 1880 census, several of the children in her family were recorded incorrectly. She is listed as Mariah L. Sams, age 15. She was also Mariah L. on a previous census, but was known in married life and by her descendants as Louisa Maria, or more affectionately, as “Lou.”  With her name written variously on different records, I am not certain which was her middle name and which was her first, or if Maria was spelled with or without an ending “h,” but I recall seeing her name written as Louisa Maria in a family Bible and my grandmother noted in writing that her name was pronounced “Lou-eye-sa.” She worked in a millinery shop in Mount Ayr before marriage.

Eli Sams Family

Eli Sams Family (Louisa: back row, center)

Glasier and his siblings, born in Indiana during their parents’ residence there, moved with them by covered wagon to Delphos, Iowa where they settled on a 120-acre unimproved prairie farm. Their mother was killed in a run-away buggy accident at the Ringgold County Fair in 1884, and their father, being ill with “lung fever” (pneumonia) for some time, died only a few months later in 1885. Orphaned, Glasier and his siblings went to live with their aunt named Mary L. (Glasier) Walker.

It was in Ohio that Glasier first married Eva Ellet (pronounced “Eh-va”). They soon moved to Iowa where they had son Fenton, but when he was only eight months old, Eva also took ill with typhoid and died. Not long after her death, Glasier married Louisa. On their honeymoon, they traveled to Bedford, Ohio to pick up little Fenton, who had been staying with his Great-Aunt Mary Walker since his mother’s death. Fenton was by then probably about two years old.

Louisa was a good wife and gave him three more children, but as Dad’s sister Anne wrote many years ago, Louisa was remembered as being “especially kind in the way she accepted Fenton as her own child” after the death of his natural mother. My grandfather and his three full siblings never considered Fenton a “half” brother; There was never a distinction made between the children. Sons X. T. and Fenton even looked more like one another than Glenn.

Louisa was a very good cook and love to bake pies. My grandfather remembered having pie on the table every morning after their main breakfast, which they ate after chores.

Glasier had suffered the loss of many loved ones early in life. As a result, he was often quite somber, but as Anne wrote, he was a “good, substantial farmer of excellent repute.” She added that he was “rather stern and almost never allowed his children to sing or speak at meals, except to ask for food,” although apparently he was less strict about this with daughter Florence. He loved nature and enjoyed roaming the timber in pursuit of a “bee tree.” When found, “a special occasion was made of cutting the ‘bee tree,’ and after the harvest, huge dishpans of honey were often gathered. Glasier was a good fisherman and served in several township and school officerships. He always hoped his son X.T. would run for and be elected to the State Legislature, which did eventually happen. He was a religious man and was always faithful to the Christian Church.”

Glasier Edwards Prentis

Glasier Edwards Prentis

In the 1920s, Glasier became a police officer. Deciding he could earn a better living in a larger city, in about 1926, he and Louisa moved to Detroit, Michigan. Apparently Detroit was violent with race riots at that time. Concerned for his safety there as a police officer, their children eventually convinced Glasier and Louisa to return to Iowa to operate one of my grandfather’s chicken hatcheries in Leon, Iowa.

My father (Ray Prentis) said that while he couldn’t recall her being as affectionate as his maternal grandmother, he had mostly good memories of Louisa and her sisters. After Glasier died in 1936, Louisa lived for a time with each of her children. When she lived with my dad’s family, their home was the two-story house next to their hatchery in Mount Ayr, between the railroad tracks and the school. In years following, that same house was the home of my dad’s brother. Louisa’s bedroom was upstairs and the only access was a very narrow staircase. Louisa was a large woman in her later years, so Dad and his siblings, at the ring of her bell, ran up and down the stairs whenever she needed things.  Aunt Jean recalls some embarrassment whenever she had to hang her grandmother’s significantly sized undergarments on the back yard laundry line to dry, cringing at the thought of everyone passing by on the train being able to see them.

Also while Louisa lived with my dad’s family, there was an obvious and unfortunate rift in the family concerning her. My father, being young, was never informed of the reason, but at some point, her daughter Florence’s husband refused to even let her visit their home.  My grandfather and his sister were very close, but after that, Dad recalls that Florence had to “sneak” visits to see her mother and Granddad so as not to upset her husband. He apparently didn’t mind so much, as long as he didn’t have to be involved with her in any way. It must have been soon after that she moved for about a year to an apartment at the Lamb Hotel on the square in Mount Ayr. During her residence there, it was my father’s job to stop by every evening after school to carry out the ashes from her stove and to run errands for her groceries and other needs. Then, sometime after her widowed sister Ollie moved from Liberty Township (within the same county) to a house in Mount Ayr, Louisa and another sister Delphene, who had never married, moved in with her, each remaining there for the rest of their lives.

Louisa (Sams) Prentis

Louisa (Sams) Prentis

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(A recent story addition to grandmother’s page on my online family tree.)

By friends and adult relatives, my grandmother was always referred to by her middle name Gladys or by her nicknames “Glady” and “Ten,” which was short for her maiden name Tennant. Her tombstone bears the name Gladys and many mistakenly believe that was her first name.

One summer day in my childhood, when I was visiting and we were busying ourselves making hollyhock dolls, I asked her why everyone called her Gladys instead of Victoria. She replied, “My mother wanted me to be elegant so she gave me an elegant name, but I was never elegant.” She peeled one side of a freshly picked hollyhock bud to make the doll’s face, handed it to me with a look of amusement and continued, “So I was just Gladys.” I fastened the bud to its open, bloomed skirt with a toothpick, plopped it into a bowl of water along with others we’d already made, smiled back, and finished her story with, “And now you’re just Nana!”

I spent many childhood summers visiting my grandparents, and many hours learning to knit and crochet or reading project directions to her so that she could crochet a toy animal, a scarf, mittens, or sweaters for me in just a few hours. She was the maker of the many crocheted afghans and well-worn knitted pot holders I still have and use, and the last thing I remember her making was a yellow knitted sweater-vest for my son, Joel, when he was a young boy. Nana was a “lefty” and I was a “righty,” but everything she taught me was the left-handed way, including knitting and crocheting. She played card games with me and taught me to deal left-handed. When my dad taught me to tie my shoes, he taught me the left-handed way she had taught him. Apparently my mom had repeatedly tried to teach me, but I just couldn’t do it until my right-handed dad showed me his left-handed way. Although I write right-handed, my many left-handed tendencies seem to have come from her. My brother also has many left-handed tendencies and even wanted to write left-handed, but that was discouraged by teachers.

Nana played the piano and sang hymns and many children’s songs to us. She loved poetry, wrote little poems herself that she called “doggerel,” and was often quoting humorous sayings, like “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” I also heard her laugh to herself and respond to something on occasion with, “Go to Father.” I didn’t understand this seemingly random retort until years later when I asked my Uncle Dick Prentis why she’d sometimes say that. He belly-laughed, explained that it came from a rhyme she knew, and recited it to me:

Go to father, she said
When he asked her to wed
‘Though she knew that he knew
That her father was dead,
And she knew that he knew
Of the life he had led,
And she knew that he knew
What she meant when she said,
“Go to father.”

So it seems that Nana had a mischievous sense of humor!

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