19 May 2015

Black Sheep of the Family

I think I've actually written about my great grand uncle before. I never even knew about Leonard Rollett until a few years ago when I finally broke through who his parents were and subsequently discovered him as the brother of my great grandmother May Rollett.

Leonard Rollett was born 7 Jan 1908 in Missouri to David Rollett and Rosa (Clark) Rollett. He died at the young age of  21 on 31 July 1931. When I discovered this it automatically had my attention. I've come across other family members that died at young ages and I find myself digging for answers. How did they die? Why so young?

The one thing I love about doing research on my Missouri ancestors is the availability of birth and death records at Missouri Digital Heritage. I found Leonard's death certificate while searching through looking for any records of his father, mother or siblings. On his death certificate for cause of death was "homicide, fire arm" and for contributory "shot by officer." Knowing that there had to be a story, I went searching for newspaper articles. In this case I was not disappointed.

And there you have it. I have a robber in my family tree. This is a story I can tell to my kids to remind them the crime doesn't pay. His partner in crime, Flutty, received 5 years for his involvement in the crime.
Leonard's sister May left behind her husband and four children and never looked back (as far as I know). I really would like to know more about this family. Crime and irresponsibility seem to be a part of their lives. 

12 May 2015

So Young, Yet Such a Man

Once again it's time for another #52Ancestors post. I've written about my 3x great grandfather many times. First because he was such a mystery to all of us, but now that I've solved the mystery, I write about him because his life was what novels are made of.

William George Woolsey was born in Iowa on 15 Dec 1865 to Richard W Woolsey and Charollette Ann (Beck) Woolsey. William refused to talk about his parents or his family. When asked by his children and grandchildren where he was from or who is parents were his response was, "I was born in Iowa and ran away as a young lad from an abusive Irish step mother, and that's all I'm going to say about that." Well he was successful in keeping the family, for generations, from finding out about his past until a couple years ago when someone saw a post I put on a forum and knew about a William Woolsey in their family who was born in Iowa and ran away from home. When we began putting the pieces together we all understood why.

In order to understand William's hatred for his parents we need to back up in time a bit. At the time of William's birth the Civil War had just ended. Charlotte lost her first husband and the father of her first three  children on 3 Apr 1863, John Nolan. Richard Woolsey, too, had suffered the loss of his first wife Alice Susan (Buck) Woolsey in 1862. Richard and Alice had six children. It would appear from the trail of records that Richard and Charlotte were devastated and lost after their first spouses died.

Richard then married Charlotte on  6 Sep 1863 in LaGrange, IN. Then William was born two years later into a very large blended family. I'm not sure what went wrong, but by 1870 Richard is no longer in the picture. He and his six children are living in Creswell, Cowley, KS. Shortly after this Richard built the first hotel in Arkansas City, KS known then as the Woolsey House and he in turn was endearingly known as Uncle Dick. I have never found a record of divorce, but clearly they were no longer together because Charlotte was living in Lincoln, Linn, KS with her four children, William being one of them and only four years old at the time.

By 1875 Charlotte is still living in Lincoln, KS, but now under a new name. She is in the home of James Kennedy (Kenneda). She is listed as C.A. Kennedy. James has three children from a previous marriage, Charlotte has her three Nolan children and William Woolsey and then together James and Charlotte have an eight month old Ella. Dear Lord, talk about a blended family of monstrous proportions. Poor William must have really felt left out, being the only Woolsey in the home. Charlotte then died in Linn County on 13 Apr 1876 at the age of 38.

At this point William is left without a mother and has a father chasing gold across the country. William is only 11 years old at this point. Even if his father was not a part of his life it became clear that at least his Woolsey half-siblings were when I found him in the 1880 census living in the home of his half sister Eva (Woolsey) Brown. In this census he is enumerated by his middle name, George. What I find strange is that he is listed as a boarder instead of half-brother-in-law. Then again when you look at that title I can see why, boarder was just easier to record. He at one time in his life mentioned that he named two of his daughter after his sisters, Eva and Minnie, however, Minnie turned out to be a niece, a daughter of his half-sister Caroline, but close enough. 

I don't find Richard in the 1875 Kansas State Census, probably because he has caught "gold fever" and is off chasing his pot at the end of the rainbow. In 1880, however, Richard is in Sauk City, Whatcom, WA. He is just one of the many miners hoping to strike it rich. I don't know when Richard left Sauk City. What I have been able to determine is that the original Sauk City was destroyed by fire (all except the general store of George Perrault) in 1889. I wouldn't be surprised if Richard through in the towel and took off at that point, but unfortunately that is likely lost with time.

Sometimes before 1900 Richard starts mining in Faulkner, Sierra, New Mexico where he was enumerated in 1900 on the US Census. I think it's very likely that he had been there for many years. He had an established mine and was again well known in the area. In some newspaper account Hillsboro is mentioned. Faulkner no longer exists and Hillsboro is an unincorporated town, basically a ghost town. I'd love to go visit this old mining ghost town some time. It's where he spent his last years until he fell ill. He was then brought home to Arkansas City, KS by his children where he died 21 Oct 1908. In his obituary each of his children is mentioned, including William, who's "whereabouts unknown."

At no point do I ever find any indication that Richard was involved in his life. At least Eva was, though no one knows for how long he was able to be with his Woolsey siblings. This mystery drove me crazy for years, and if it hadn't been for someone from the other side of that story in the family, I may never have solved it. Message boards have brought about such break throughs on more than one occasion. When you have a mystery, don't forget to use the message board. You never know who will be reading and knows the other half of the story you are looking for.

The amazing part is that John Woolsey who solved the mystery when he found my post was also born and raised in the same town in Modesto, CA as I was. He told me one time that he had asked his dad before if he was related to the Woolsey's in the phone book, and it turns out that he was. The Woolsey names he had seen and asked about where my grandfather and father (and his siblings). It makes you realize what a small world we live in and that we may be more closely related to our neighbors than we realize.

28 April 2015

Life Wasn't Easy

As part of this week's #52Ancestors "Where there's a will" I will write about my husband's grandmother. I have written about her many times. She is a dear sweet woman who has lived through some very difficult times, especially in her childhood.

Estelle Conner was born the 25 May 1929 in Hollis, OK in a little one room wooden shack to Ernest Ghamo Conner and Flora Mae Manning. She was a twin, but her twin brother died shortly after birth. By 1930 Ernest had picked up his small family and moved to Brown County, TX. He was likely following work, which he would do for a large portion of his life.

Let's back up and understand Ernest a bit. He wasn't called Ernest by his family. He was known as Joe Conner. He was born in Williamson, TX to William Monroe Conner and Laura Alice Barnett in 1898. They would spend the next 20 years moving around Texas. They were farmers after all and likely following farm work, but not having land of their own. Eventually they settled down in Harmon County, OK and owned a farm of their own. Unfortunately after William's death in 1936 Laura would loose the farm due to taxes. Ernest had 14 siblings. Can you imagine having that many siblings to share with?! As if life in rural Texas wasn't hard enough, I'm sure it was made more difficult by the shear number of mouths to feed. Yet somehow they came together and remained a very tight and loving family.

Rumor has it (according to Aunt Mattie) that Flora's family disowned her because she married an Indian (Ernest). My research isn't turning up enough Indian in the family to actually call Ernest Native American. Just speculation on my part, but I'd say it had more to do with their age than the fact that he had a small drop of Indian blood in him. Ernest was 13 years her senior and when Estelle and her twin brother were born, Flora was only 18 years old, so she was likely around 17 when they were married. I have yet to find that record.

Anyway Ernest and Flora end up in Amarillo, TX. In 1940 he is listed as a "common laborer" for the WPA. That was farm labor or ranching. Since the rest of his life involved moving farm to farm as a farm laborer and grandma never mentioned him as a cowboy, I'd say it's safe to say he was doing farm labor.

Ernest and Flora would go on to have four more children all born in TX: Mattie Josephine, Lotti "Laura" Bell, Billie Joe and Geneva. Geneva and Flora died shortly after Geneva was born due to complications of the birth in Mar 1940.  In the 1940 census taken on April 13 Ernest is renting a home in Amarillo. In the household are his four living children, Laura (his mother) and his two youngest sibling. What is unknown is how Ernest and his mother end up back in Hollis and the children removed from him. It may be that Laura traveled to Amarillo with her last two children still at home to help him with his children after the death of his wife and was in the process of bringing him and the children back to her home when the census was taken.

Regardless of how or when, Joe's children were taken from him and put into an orphanage in Tipton, OK. She wasn't in the home for long. It wasn't a bad place to live, they just missed their dad. He wanted his children back and the only way to do that was to get married again. Supposedly in that day people in the infinite (misguide) wisdom thought that a father was not capable of raising children on his own. So he married a widow who had a fifteen year old son. Her name was Bernice. Joe was able then to get his children back, but life with Bernice was anything but good. Estelle's only fond memories in that home was of a colored maid who loved the kids. She couldn't remember her name, but loved her. Joe finally had enough of this woman and how she made the children feel, so he packed them up and snuck away in the middle of the night. He went back to Oklahoma about 80 miles from his mother where they all helped him pick cotton on a cotton farm. From then on the children would go with him, living in tents on farms and help him with farm work.

A photo I restored of Grandma Estelle and two of her siblings: Laura (L) and Billie (R). Grandma is in the center.
Estelle never got more than a fifth grade education. She was too busy working on farms with her dad to survive and helping her dad raise her younger siblings, that education wasn't that important. I know at this point some of you may be thinking they were right to take the kids from him, but it only broke his and the children's hearts to be away from each other. Life was hard, but it made grandma and her siblings strong, independent, self sufficient people.

When he went back to Amarillo, TX he meet Curley, the woman he would later marry and spend the rest of his life with. The kids all loved her. Grandma missed her mother, but Curley was her second mother and she loved her just as much.

Joe was never able to afford a headstone to put on his wife or baby girl's grave. Several years ago my mother-in-law took Grandma on a road trip before her memory became too bad. They were able to visit the graves of Flora and Geneva Conner. Grandma was so moved that not only did they not have a headstone but the little bricks with their first name had to have layers of dirt removed before they could be seen. Grandma went that day and paid for headstone to be put on their graves.

31 March 2015

Never forget

This week's challenge in #52Ancestors is "Favorite Photo." I would have to say of all the photos I now have of my ancestors one of my all time favorites is not what you'd expect. It doesn't have someone's face, but tells me so much about my great grandfather, General Martin Hayes.

My favorite photo is a photo of this cabin where Martin Hayes was born. And to make it an even great treasuer, on the back in my great great grandmother's, Mary Jane (Vest) Hayes, writing is a note to him. "To Martin a Reminder Mother." She was reminding him to never forget where he came from.

General Martin Hayes was born 4 Apr 1907 in Hominy, OK to James Martin Hayes and Mary Jane (Vest) Hayes. Martin lived in and around Hominy until he was in his 30's. The last known record of him living in Hominy is the 1940 census. Though his obit states that he moved to Turlock, CA in 1941. On 17 Oct 1943 Martin enlisted in the Army to serve in WWII from Sacramento, CA. Note that he was given the name of General Martin Hayes as a child. He was not a General in the army, at least not that I know of.  By 1950 he moved his family to Modesto, CA. He died on 17 Dec 1960 in Turlock, CA.

This photo will always be a treasure as it truly represents many of my family lines and the hardships they endured. It just shows where my strength and ambition comes from.