Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy’

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

My grandfather X.T. was named for his grandfather, Xavier Thomas Prentis, but was only called by the initials, and to his knowledge, so was his grandfather. In fact, Granddad didn’t even know he had a full name until while serving in the Iowa Senate,  a news reporter, frustrated that Granddad would not reveal his full name, bet Granddad that he could find his full name on his birth certificate. Granddad didn’t think he had one of those either! The reporter had done his homework and had either already found a copy, or then went and searched for it, but much to my grandfather’s surprise, a birth certificate bearing a full name of Xavier Thomas Prentis was later produced.

Apparently when he was born, his “Uncle Doc,” Percy L. Prentis, was the physician who delivered him. When Percy asked Granddad’s parents what name he should put on the birth registration, Glasier told him to name him after their father. With those instructions, Percy wrote down the full name, but thereafter, his parents and everyone else only ever referred to him as X.T.  On all official records besides his birth certificate, he was, as Granddad would always say when asked for his full name, “X.T. Prentis. Just X.T.” In unofficial matters, he was sometimes just “X”.

X.T. was an Iowa State Senator for fourteen years, holding the office of State Representative four times in succession, and serving a number of years as Iowa State Tax Commissioner.  His uncle Percy was also an Iowa State Representative for three consecutive terms.

In April, 2009, I received the following comments from a distant cousin on my grandmother’s side, Richard L. Stephens, related through Cora (Tennant) Trimble, a sister of George Alexander Tennant (Nana’s father):

“I knew X.T., his wife, and son Dick and wife well. I went to school with their kids and we attended the same church. X.T. helped me with one of my high school assignments and the sly old fox taught me more on that project than any teacher I have ever had.

“The assignment was about property tax. Since we were in the same church and he was a State Senator at the time, I thought it would be a slam dunk. I told him all of the information I needed and he said he would get it for me. Instead of the neat, concise report I expected, X.T. gave me a stack of books, pamphlets and reports six inches thick! It was all there, but much of it had to be compiled and correlated to make it what I needed. I learned so much in the process about the Iowa property tax system, and more importantly about research and data compilation. I got an A, but got a lot of much more valuable education. He could have just given me the information, but instead he gave me an education! I finally grew up enough to realize it while he was still around and thanked him for it! Sly old fox!”

In addition to his long political career, Granddad also owned and operated chicken hatcheries in Bedford, Leon, and Mount Ayr, Iowa for fifty-four years. In 1924, the Prentis Hatchery was opened in Mount Ayr with a capacity of 2,400 eggs and by 1936, this had been increased to 100,000.  It was at that time, the only state-inspected hatchery in the county.  The modern hatchery used electric equipment to incubate as well as to hatch, and a good part of its business was “custom” hatching for local farmers and poultry raisers. The hatchery was later operated by his son, Richard, and finally by Richard’s son-in-law.

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I’ve had so many issues with my Family Tree Maker program this past couple of weeks. I had version 16 working smoothly for a couple of years, but my genealogy file got corrupted somehow after recent new data entries. I was able to restore most of it, but will have to re-enter a few things. Well, the restored copy got corrupted again, so I had to resort to my Time Capsule once more and purchase the new 2009 Family Tree Maker. It all seemed to be working smoothly and a couple of days ago, after much frustration, I FINALLY had success in uploading my 17,000-plus person tree to Ancestry.com — no thanks to their technical support team who never did follow up on a promise to upload it for me after several failed attempts.

Eureka! My tree is now online, but you need Ancestry.com membership to view, and my upload duplicated some record sources for many individuals or put a few things in weird fields, so there’s some cleanup to do and some additions to make over time.

Okay, so now I’ve noticed a quirk in the new FTM…

Because my tree is so large that my family lines reconnect here and there, and even with my husband’s several generations back, my relationships with people become very complicated. The new program is supposed to list my closest family relationship with each person, but (I find this pretty humorous actually) the siblings of some of my direct ancestors become distant cousins for some reason instead of varying degrees of aunts and uncles. For some lines it seems to confuse my farthest relationship with my closest. For example, my mother’s natural siblings should simply be my aunt and uncle, but instead, my closest connection with them is listed as being 23 generations back, making us twenty-third cousins 6x removed! This has happened in one of Steve’s lines too, and I don’t know how to fix it. I’ve emailed again for technical advice, but haven’t yet had a response. Did their tech support pack up and leave, or what? (This problem only affects the program, and doesn’t reflect in my online tree, thankfully.)

I joined a freelance genealogy site and have been bidding on research jobs for others now too. My first bid was accepted a few weeks ago and I delivered on the request right away. I’ve also been connecting with several people to collaborate on my own family research, so with all that, I’ve been feeding my genealogy addiction rather well. I’m now in the process of uploading photos and documents to my online family tree, and writing stories about various family members, so for those of you who are interested, be expecting those to be posted here as well.

I’ve been up all night again.


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Since I recreated a six generation photo montage for male descendants in my dad’s family several weeks ago, he asked me to try to come up with something similar for the girls in the family. There weren’t as many photos of the women in his family, at least not in the same line of descent, but I am lucky enough to have six generations of women’s photos from my mom’s family, including my daughters and me. The oldest photo, of my 2nd great-grandmother Emma, turned out fairly well considering the condition it was in, but as I brought the photo to life with  digital colorization, I was taken with her uncanny resemblance to myself — almost as much resemblance as Dad had to his 2nd great-grandfather!

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And I thought PRENTIS was a difficult name!

A 2nd great-grandmother of mine was a CASTETTER, but my genealogical research has turned up so many variations of this family name: Castetter, Castator, Castater, Castteter, Carsteter, Casteter, Castor, Kirstaetter, Kestiter, Kearstuter, Kerstetter, Kierstaetter, Kirstätter, Kirschstatter, Karstetter, Kastetter, Kastater, Kastator, Kaster,  Kostatter, Kostetter, etc. Census takers and transcribers created even more unusual variations in spelling (Custaton, Casteller, Castelter, Casteator, Castrater, etc.), making it very difficult to find available records!

From J. R. Baker: “The surname seems to have originally been Kerstaetter. It was spelled that way, plus Kirstetter, Kerstetter, Karstetter, etc. in German church records in Pennsylvania. When the family reached Kentucky and Ohio, the officials, of English descent, spelled it Castator or Castetter. I’ve been told that it is pronounced similar to Gestapo (cas-TAH-ter).”

Some time ago, while researching my Castetter/Castator line, I found a wealth of information in Stephen Arlington Kerstetter’s online publication: THE KERSTETTER FAMILY: THE EARLY YEARS, 1727-1850. Part V refers to Michael and Dorothea Kerstetter (a.k.a. Johannes Mikael Kirstaetter and Maria Dorothea Dietz), my 6th great-grandparents. They were the parents of Martin Kerstetter (a.k.a. Johan or Johannes Martin Kerstaetter) who married Abby Elizabeth (a.k.a. Appolonia and Abigail). Martin and Abby were the parents of Michael Castator (a.k.a. Castater, etc.) who married Anna  (“Anne”) Thomas. Michael and Anna’s oldest son, George Washington Castator (a.k.a. Castater and Castetter, etc.), married Elizabeth (“Eliza”) Anne Watson, 24 Aug 1840, in Ripley County, Indiana. George and Eliza Anne are my 3rd great-grandparents.

I was very grateful to the author for all his effort and found it extremely helpful to my own research; however, it dead-ended for my branch of the family with a snippet of information that piqued my curiosity:


(p. 55 )

Michael Born about 1798 in Tennessee
Married Anna Thomas on Jan. 16, 1817 in Butler County
Died in Ripley County, Indiana after 1840

(p. 58 )

• Michael and his wife Anna apparently moved from Butler County to nearby Ripley County, Indiana, not long after their marriage in 1817. The 1820 census in Ripley County shows Michael, his wife, and two daughters and one son under the age of ten. At the time of the 1850 census, an Anna Castator, age 49, was living with the family of George Washington Castator in Ripley County.

George Washington Castator married Eliza Watson on Aug. 24, 1840. George
Washington was born about 1817 in Ohio and Eliza about 1820 in Indiana. Eliza
apparently died after 1850. The 1870 census listing includes a Louisa Castator born in Indiana about 1821.

Born where, you say?

None of my own information suggests that Michael was born in Tennessee; however, Anna’s birthplace is listed as Tennessee in the 1850 census. As with most families, a lot of public information is conflicting. Parental information on census reports between 1880-1920 for some of their children confuses me further with birthplaces listed for both Michael and Anna as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Germany, Kentucky, “the United States of America,” or left entirely blank.

I had concluded that only Anna was born in Tennessee, and that Michael was probably born between 1797-1801 in Northumberland Co. (or adjacent Snyder Co.), Pennsylvania, as were his other siblings (from various family records). Do documents exist (Tennessee land records, etc.) that suggest Michael was born there instead of Pennsylvania?

Castetter, Kerstetter… Where are you?

As for Michael living past 1840, I’ve located a Mikael Castator residing in Ripley Co. in 1830, but haven’t yet found any record of him still living there in 1840. I did find record of a Michael Castater in Ross, Butler, Ohio in 1840, but the ages in the household aren’t right for him at that time (must be some relative though!). My records agree that he was married 16 Jan 1817 in Butler County, Ohio to Anna Elizabeth Thomas (born abt. 1801-02 in Maryville, Blount, Tennessee*, and died after 1850 in Ripley Co., IN). They had seven known children: George Washington, Abigail, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Malinda, Susannah (“Susan”), and Ira Ishmael. The 1830 census records another son, while a known daughter was overlooked. Was there another son we don’t know about, or did the census taker mistake their youngest daughter for a boy?

*I assumed Anna was from Blount County, Tennessee since Michael’s sister Christina / Christiana was supposedly married there in 1808, and have recently found more evidence to support this. According to another researcher for this family, Tracy Bischoff, who found land records, the Castator family was living in Butler Co., Ohio by 1811, and apparently Anna’s family also moved from Tennessee to Ohio, where she and Michael were married in 1817. They may have known one another in Tennessee, but without documentation proving otherwise, I tend to believe she was the only one of the two actually born there. There are several marriage and land records for people with the surname Thomas in Butler Co., Ohio and Ripley Co. IN, which are thought to be relatives, but the names of Anna’s parents have only recently been discovered. (See updates below.)

Almost all family histories indicate that his father died about 1814, but C. R. Mapes gives an unsourced date of 1 Sep 1815, in Snyder Co., Pennsylvania, and Tracy Bischoff gives information extracted from Michael’s father’s will. An unnamed source gives the date of  20 Aug 1814. Abby (recorded incorrectly as Abegail Castrater) was still living as of 1820, as evident in Butler Co., Ohio census records. Since she was a widowed landowner there, it seems logical that Michael died there instead of Pennsylvania, as Tracy Bischoff believed.

Tangled Roots…

When I read on page 58 that Eliza was assumed by the author to be dead after 1850, I wondered how many other family researchers had the same misconception. She was still living in 1860, and I had already seen the 1870 census with “Louisa J.” as George’s spouse and knew it was a mistake. Also still living in the household at that time were daughter Ida, son John, and their married daughter, Margaret Jane (“Jennie”) Bone, whose husband was either temporarily away or living elsewhere for some reason. Apparently wherever one was living at the time the census was taken, was where one was documented, whether it was a permanent residence or a temporary one — so the inclusion of a married daughter without her husband (or children, if there were any) could also be evidence of an extended visit there without her spouse.

I wasn’t sure when George died, but I knew Eliza lived past 1881. Census mistakes were common.  I have a Louisa in another family line whose name was pronounced in a way that rhymes with Eliza — so with this in mind, I believe the census taker may have simply misheard her name. Eliza was still married to George in 1870, and did not die until sometime after 4 Oct 1881, when she was married 2nd (probably in Ripley Co., Indiana) to William Hobbs.

At that point in reading the Kerstetter genealogy, I checked for contact information for the author and planned to offer “new” information and correct what I knew to be inaccurate — but first I thought it best to locate Eliza in public records after 1870.

With some difficulty due to the many variations of the family name, I finally located Eliza in the 1880 census, divorced —not widowed as I’d always believed — and living in Ripley Co., Indiana with her youngest son, John T. Castator (their last name transcribed as Castater on the census). Who knew? Not only was I surprised at this discovery, but the idea of divorces being recorded in census records of that time period had never even occurred to me. Incidentally, John T. is also recorded as John F. on the 1870 census, and on the 1860 census, the family name is spelled Castteter [sic].

Besides the name of Eliza’s second husband and their date of marriage (provided years ago by my grandfather), I have no other information about him from family records. Online records for Ripley County marriages also only go through 1880, and they were married in 1881. According to Granddad, Eliza died in Delaware Township, Ripley Co., Indiana (no date given), but I find no record of her there past the 1880 census. Unfortunately, 1890 census reports were mostly destroyed by fire, and she’s nowhere to be found by 1900.  It appears that both Eliza and her second husband were deceased by 1900.

My family records never gave any indication of their divorce. I don’t know if there was a deliberate “cover up” of this information by subsequent generations, but it was definitely not shared with me.  While contemplating this new information, it occurred to me that the notation of divorce could be incorrect, and then it also occurred to me that even if they were divorced after 1870 and George had since died, Eliza’s marital status in 1880 would probably be “single.” Since it was neither single nor widowed, then George must have still been living and there should also be an available census record for him in 1880. Maybe this is why social networking sites like Facebook include the relationship status “it’s complicated.” Census forms apparently needed the same option back then, and probably still do today!

Unable to find any record for a divorced George, I wondered if he had already remarried by then. With further checking, I found an 1880 census record in Fairmount, Grant, Indiana under the name George Custaton (Castator, transcribed incorrectly) that could belong to him with a much younger wife, Margaret — but also with three children (the oldest a teenager and the youngest born in 1879). Because none of the children were recorded as stepchildren to George, I dismissed it at first, but after much more searching, that was the only George I could locate that could possibly be him! By then I felt like I was playing a game of Clue.

It was Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory, with a revolver…

Recalling that in 1870, married daughter Margaret (“Jennie”) was listed as a household resident, I tried to make the 1880 record a better match for our George by considering that maybe Margaret was again (or still) living with her father without her husband (Did his occupation involve frequent or extended travel?), that perhaps she was recorded incorrectly as wife instead of daughter, and that the children were actually grandchildren to George — but her birth year was off by four years, she was more commonly known as “Jennie,” and if the name I have for her husband is correct, she was in her own household in 1880 with different children. All that pretty much ruled out this Margaret being a daughter rather than wife.

The wrong family name and the fact that both of this George’s parents were “born in Ohio,” should not discredit the possibility that this is our George. Names and census information were often poorly recorded or transcribed, and it is apparent that several siblings of George who lived past 1880 also gave erroneous information for their parents’ birthplaces. Our George’s youngest brother Ira, a Civil War veteran who lived at least through 1920, changed his response for that section of the form on every available census after 1880!

If there are any real inaccuracies on this census, what are they? Did the census taker mean to write “W” for “widowed” rather than “D” for “divorced” on Eliza’s original form, or if George was still alive and married to this younger Margaret, were all or at least two of the children really adopted stepchildren, but not recorded correctly?  If George was still living in 1880, but this wasn’t the right George, where is the correct census record? If the record I found is the right record and there are no errors, then our George may have fathered two or all of these children illegitimately before his divorce from Eliza, and that would have been quite the scandal!

One factor that supports this being the right record for our George is that the youngest child, Ira, has a name common to our family line and could have been named for his brother Ira. Another is that in 1900, this same Margaret (now widowed) is Margaret CASTETTER, living with her married, oldest daughter’s family. CASTETTER is the way of spelling the family name that by that time was preferred by all of George’s children and at least some of his siblings.

Divorces at that time were not so common, especially late in a marriage. Why would a woman married forty years prior to 1880 divorce her husband? An adulterous relationship with a much younger woman and 1-3 illegitimate children would certainly explain a divorce, a change in location, and why vagueness or a possible “cover story” may have led future generations to assume George had died before Eliza married a second time.

Forgive me, George, if I have unjustly shamed you!

Although there are many unanswered questions regarding this family, the real story is probably not nearly as complicated as incorrect or missing information makes it seem. No family is perfect, but it was not my intent to let my curiosity fabricate or unearth an unsavory family tale. What I have or haven’t yet found is definitely not enough to conclude without doubt that George had a second family with adulterous beginnings — but it does raise the possibility.

It’s all relative

Apart from all the mystery surrounding George and Eliza’s final ten years, it’s interesting to note that except for one unnamed brother who (if he existed at all) apparently died in infancy, all the rest of George’s siblings survived into adulthood and married.

George’s oldest sister Abigail married Eliza’s older brother, Henry Watson. They had ten children.  George’s sister Mary Ann creates yet another mystery: Did she marry William Culver, Culyer, or Cuyler, and did they have any children? George’s sister Elizabeth married John Morris and then nothing more is yet known. The sister Malinda (or was it Melinda or Belinda?) married Levi Tucker. They had eight children. The sister Susannah (“Susan”) married Richard Lyons (a.k.a. Lions and Lyens). They also had eight children. George’s brother Ira, born a decade or more after all the rest married Florence J. and they had nine children.

George and Eliza’s firstborn was my 2nd great-grandmother Sarah who married Josephus Main. They had eight children, including my great-grandfather John Dwight. The rest of George and Eliza’s children included William Montgomery who married Belle Little, Margaret Jane (“Jennie”) who married Mr. Bone (probably James Milton Bone), George Washington Jr., Franklin Marion who married Sarah A. Brinegar, Ida May who married Martin Van Buren Brown, and John T. All this makes for quite an extensive descendant outline covering eight generations beginning with George and Eliza. There are also eight known previous generations in this lineage.

The Source of the Matter…

My sources for this family line include online Ripley County Indiana marriage records (site linked above), personal records, and genealogical records of my maternal grandfather, Weldon C. MAIN (J. Dwight MAIN3, Sarah E. CASTETTER2, George W. CASTATOR1) compared with various family trees, marriage records, military records, census data, and public records available through Ancestry.com and other online searches.


Update: (14 Jan 2009)

Since originally writing this entry, I have attempted to connect Michael Castator’s wife, Anna Thomas, to others of that name in Blount County, Tennessee. My findings indicate there were several Thomas families residing in Tennessee by 1800, some with Welsh ancestry and some with German. Our Thomas line would more likely be German, and with Blount County ties, I zeroed in on the most likely family to be that of Anna’s father. A Jacob Thomas of that location had five sons and one daughter. The daughter (Margaret) and two of his sons (Jacob and Adam) remained in the area and their descendants have been fairly well documented. The remaining three sons (George, Henry, and John) were mostly unaccounted for. Other than their mention in Jacob’s will, there was apparently no further record of them in Blount County.  I emailed Bettye Heinrich, a known descendant and she very kindly offered assistance in checking census and marriage records for the areas in which they were believed to have lived. The 1820 Ripley Co. census revealed Anna living near a Henry Thomas old enough to be her father and a George Thomas, old enough to be her brother. The 1820 Butler Co. Census revealed Abigail Castator living near another George Thomas. Butler Co. marriage records revealed a possible sister Elizabeth.

Bettye Heinrich directed me to a Thomas Family website that had archived the findings of now deceased Barbara Fitzmaurice. In the last years of her life, Mrs. Fitzmaurice made several forum posts on genealogical sites regarding the Thomas family of Blount Co., TN. As I became more convinced that Anna was a daughter of Henry, I recalled seeing in one of her posts that Henry’s wife was named Mary, but couldn’t relocate it. Attempting to find that, I instead found another, and there, among Henry and Mary’s children were Anna, George, Elizabeth, and others.

Combining data from government documents and several family histories available online, I have concluded the following:

Jacob THOMAS (farmer) b. abt. 1739-43, Northumberland Co., PA; d. bet. 20 Jun – 28 Aug 1804, in or near Maryville, Blount, TN; m. abt. 1760-61, Pennsylvania, to Margaret ____, who was still living as of 1808, and d. in or near Maryville, Blount, TN. They had the following children:


  • Margaret THOMAS (F) b. abt. 1762, Northumberland Co., PA; d. aft. Jun 1836, Blount Co., TN; m. abt. 1789, Blount Co., TN to Jacob NEIMAN, b. bef. 1759, PA; d. May 1793, Knox Co., TN (now called Blount Co.); issue.
  • George THOMAS (M) b. abt. 1763, Northumberland Co., PA; d. aft. 1820, probably in Ross, Butler, OH. (Probably father of George THOMAS, b. abt. 1790, Tennessee;  who m. Margaret ____, b. abt. 1790, Tennessee; both probably d. in Ross, Butler, OH.)
  • Henry THOMAS (M) b. bet. 1764-67, Northumberland Co., PA; d. aft. 1820, Rush Co., IN; m. abt. 1783, Pennsylvania to Mary ____, b. 1767, Pennsylvania; d. Rush Co., IN; Issue. (See list below.)
  • John THOMAS (M) b. abt. 1768, Northumberland Co., PA; d. __, probably in Indiana. (Likely one of the first land owners of Ripley Co., Indiana, along with other Thomases.)
  • Adam THOMAS (M) b. 1 Jan 1770, Northumberland Co., PA; d. 10 Jan 1855, Blount Co., TN; m. 1st,  abt. 1790, Blount Co., TN,  Anna B. ____, who d. abt. 1840, Blount Co., TN; issue; Adam m. 2nd, 13 Nov 1849, Blount Co., TN, Jane Ralston, b. 1826.
  • Jacob THOMAS (M) b. abt. 1780, Northumberland Co., PA; d. 10 Sep 1855, Cleveland, Bradley, TN; m. 20 Feb 1812, Blount Co., TN to Margaret Elizabeth NEIMAN, b. abt. 1787, TN; d. 10 Jun 1888, Cleveland, Bradley, TN; issue.



Children of Henry and Mary THOMAS:


  • Jacob THOMAS (M) b. 30 Oct 1784, Pennsylvania
  • Henry THOMAS (M) b. 1786, Pennsylvania; Served in the War of 1812.
  • Margaret THOMAS (F) b. 1787, Pennsylvania
  • Elizabeth THOMAS (F) b. 9 Apr 1790, Tennessee; m. 8 Feb 1810, Butler Co., OH to Stephen SCUDDER, b. abt. 1785; Stephen may have d. in War of 1812, as there is no record of him beyond that. Another Stephen Scudder in Liberty Twp., Butler, OH proves by later census records not to be him, but is probably a cousin. Elizabeth may have remarried.
  • Barbary THOMAS (F) b. 16 Nov 1792, Tennessee
  • Mary Ann THOMAS (F) b. 1794, Tennessee; d. 1855, Rush Co., IN; m. 1813, Butler Co., OH to Jacob BOLSER / BALSER, b. 1789, York, PA or Butler Co., OH; d. Aug. 1844, Rush Co., IN; issue.
  • George THOMAS (M) b. abt. 1798, Tennessee; d. 1869, Rush Co., IN; m. 27 Nov 1818, Butler Co., OH to Elizabeth ELDER, b. 17 Jul 1797, Tennessee; d. 18 Jan 1869, Rush Co., IN; issue.
  • Anna Elizabeth THOMAS (F) b. abt. 1801-02, Maryville, Blount, TN; d. bet 1850-60, Delaware Twp., Ripley Co., IN; m. 16 Jan 1817, Butler Co., OH to Michael CASTATER / CASTATOR; issue.
  • Susannah THOMAS (F) b. 8 Jan 1802, Maryville, Blount, TN; m. 2 Mar 1819, Ripley Co., IN to James Stevens, b. abt. 1799.





Eliza’s 1880 census supports the information I had from my grandfather’s records that Eliza’s parents were both from England. Granddad’s information included that she had a brother Henry Watson (b. 11 Apr 1817), who married Abigail Castator (oldest sister of George W.).  Abigail was b. 8 Sep 1819 In Delaware Twp., Ripley Co., IN, and died 5 Dec 1880, in Union, Worth,  MO. After her death, Henry married 2nd in 1882, to Elizabeth _____ (born 21 Apr 1829 in VA; d. 15 Aug 1905 in Grant City, Worth, MO).

From Henry’s 1900 census, his place of birth is England and his year of immigration is 1818. (His sister Eliza was born abt. 1821 in Ripley Co., Indiana). Henry is listed as both Henry Watson and Henry Walton on Ripley Co. marriage records (alphabetically, he’s Walton, and by date, he’s Watson). Henry and his second wife are buried in Grant City Cemetery, Grant City, Worth, MO. Abigail, some of their children, as well as Abigail’s sister Balinda (as spelled on her headstone; a.k.a. Belinda and Malinda) and brother-in-law Levi Tucker are buried in Bethel Cemetery, Union, Worth, MO. The Tuckers’ daughter Elizabeth married Ellis Denver Watson, whose grandmother was born in England, so was probably indirectly related to Henry. Her family is also buried in Bethel Cemetery.

I don’t know the names of Eliza and Henry’s parents. I suspected they were children of Eber and Phebe (Thompson) Watson, since Eber was the only Watson on the 1820 census for Ripley County, but a marriage record for Eber in Phebe in Butler Co. Ohio says they were married there in 1805. They do have ties to Ripley Co., Indiana though, so may be related in some way. Perhaps Eliza was born in an adjacent county where other Watsons resided and moved to Ripley County later.

I found a reference for James V. Watson, born in London, England in 1814, and “when quite young his parents removed to Indiana.” This Watson moved around a lot, but was somewhere in Missouri about 1832. Our Henry was in Worth County, Missouri by 1855 as one of its first settlers. Since Eliza and Henry’s parents came to Indiana from England in 1818, this James could fit into their family as a brother. I will try to research this possibility further.


EDIT (22 Apr 2014): I was contacted yesterday by Sarah E. North, saying she was a descendant of Henry Watson’s sister Sarah Joanna (Watson) Jackson. I had never heard of Sarah in all these years. How did I miss her? She also said, “The whole family is listed in THE EMIGRANT’S GUIDE by William Cobbett, an English reformer.” I had also never heard of this book, so I began searching online for where to find it. I love the Internet! The book is available online: The Emigrant’s Guide, and there on page 50 is my third great-grandmother’s date and place of birth, as well as correcting her middle name for me (it’s not Eliza Jane as my grandfather believed, but Eliza Anne, short for Elizabeth!), and finally giving me the names of her paternal grandparents and several other relatives. I had guessed completely wrong about her paternal grandfather. The family correspondence is amazing! PLEASE READ THE LETTERS and see my updated genealogy!

EDIT (1 May 2014): You know my methods, Watson

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

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

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

Xavier Thomas Prentis

Xavier Thomas Prentis

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

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

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

Capt. Jonathan Prentties, 1657-1727

Capt. Jonathan Prentties, 1657-1727

Elisabeth Latimer Prentis, 1667-1759

Elisabeth Latimer Prentis, 1667-1759

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

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

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

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

Six Generations

Six Generations

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

October 30, 1982
Mount Ayr, Iowa
Gladys Tennant Prentis

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

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

Sound familiar? Anyway, she continues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Mount Ayr, Iowa
April 14, 1988


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

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


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

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

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Original Scan

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Digitally Restored

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Digitally Restored

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Restored Sepia

Joseph Main Family Farmhouse - Restored Sepia

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

Mom and Barb

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

Mom and Barb

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 26th ’64

My Dear Wife,

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

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

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

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

My ever beloved,
Your aff’t husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Eddy and Freddy, my very dear little boys,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your aff’t

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

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

Eastern Hill
August 9th, ’72

My dearest Richard,

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

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

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

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

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

Your aff’t

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

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

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

Richard Edward Richards

Richard Edward Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

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

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

She begins:

March 9, 1986
Age 74 years

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

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

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

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

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

Grandma and Lola

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

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

Grandma Main

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

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


1Jesse married my paternal great aunt, Edna Tennant.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

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