Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Fan and an Old Photograph

Orel Pearl Williams (1870-1962),
wife of G. A. Britton, was my grandmother.

Pearl Williams, wife of G. A. Britton -- 1928
This photo was made just prior to their 40th wedding anniversary.

I knew the pretty white-haired lady as Grandma Britton; others called her Pearl. I frequently accompanied my father when he went to visit Pearl and George. My first visit was when I was just a baby. They were living then in southeast Missouri, in Ripley County, near the Arkansas line. My very first memories are associated with my second visit there when I was three years old. They are enhanced by a photograph made by my aunt at a family picnic.

Years later when the Brittons returned to the home area of their youth in Henry County, Iowa, it's the living room that I remember. It was overflowing with photographs and memorabilia; the associated stories appealed to me. On one particular visit, Grandma Britton brought out a photograph for my dad and gave me a lovely fragile fan.  Now, both are in my possession. The occasion at which the photo was made was a 4th of July celebration during their courtship. Pearl was prepared for the sun and heat with her parasol and the fan in her lap.

Pearl Williams and G. A. Britton, 4 July 1888

The couple wed on New Year's Day, 1889. When they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, I was one of the many guests. I was much impressed with the elaborate anniversary cake, and to this day have a well-preserved tiny frosting bird that was on my own piece of the cake.

--genieBev (Genealogy Beverly)
For ideas about how to do Family History, visit:

He Came Back to Iowa -- twice

George Albert Newell Britton (1866-1953)
was my great grandfather. 

George Britton, 1938

George, son of Robert Britton and Margaret Jane Anderson, was named after a popular minister of the area, Rev. Albert Newell, and in turn my father acquired the name of Newell from his grandfather, George.

George had 7 sisters and brothers; I knew the three youngest, all girls. Their father died in 1880; their widowed mother lived on until 1913, and was survived by all 8 of her children.

On New Year's Day, 1889,
George married Orel Pearl Williams, in New London, Iowa.

In the company of his Williams inlaws, G. A. Britton took his family to Texas in 1894. The Galveston hurricane and flood of September 7 and 8, 1900, was responsible for their return to Iowa. Two weeks after the disaster, they were able to leave by train, later sending two young men of the Williams family back to load any salvagable goods on to railroad boxcars for transport to Iowa.

In 1912, just a few weeks after the New Year's Day marriage of their daughter, Edna, in New London, Iowa, the local newspaper for that area announced: "Geo. Britton and family and Mr. and Mrs. Louis DeLong left Wednesday for Naylor, Mo., to make their future home. They leave a host of friends here who regret to see them leave, but who wish them all possible success in their new location." (March 6, 1912). Cotton was one of the crops in Ripley County, Missouri. They also kept a flock of chickens.

Upon retirement from their Missouri farm, George and Pearl returned to New London. A family portrait was made on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

The G. A. Britton Family, 1939
Left to right: Edgar, G. A., Edna, Pearl, Forest

Except for the years they lived in Texas and Naylor, Missouri, George and Pearl were residents of New London in Henry County, Iowa, up until the time of George's death; although he died in neighboring Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, 11 July 1953. Pearl died in New London almost 9 years later.

--genieBev (Genealogy Beverly)
For ideas about how to do Family History, visit:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

His Ancestry Would Have Surprised Him

William Ransom Jones (1855-1935)
was my great grandfather.

William Ransom Jones

William was the second son of Thomas Jones and his first wife, Anna L. Benedict who was born in Canada. Anna was a daughter of Isaac and Rebecca Wing Benedict who brought their family to southeastern Iowa in 1850. They were Quakers and settled among Quaker families in their new location.

It is likely that Will  knew something of both his Benedict and Wing Canadian and Quaker heritage but practically nothing about his Jones family line. Research by descendants in recent years found his connection back to Edward Fuller, passenger on the Mayflower. I wish he had known about this historical personality, for as an avid reader, I’m sure he knew about the significance of The Mayflower Compact . . . but without knowing that his ancestor was one of the signers.

In most documents, Will is recorded as William R. Jones; his wife called him Will. Neighbors and friends often referred to him as “Whistlin’ Bill”  or Billy. In his obituary with the headline of “Pioneer Dies At His Home,” his name appears as William R. Jones. The marking on his gravestone was W. R. Jones. The family records his middle name as Ransom, but without knowing its origins. We have learned of a Ransom family who in Canada lived near the Benedicts; they had a small son named William Ransom. It seems likely that Anna Benedict Jones named her son after that family.

Grandpa Jones was a small man, small-boned and never fat. His hair was white, not bald, but thin. His white mustache was always trimmed. He was a quiet person but always had a smile and was well liked. When his children were small, he always took time to listen to their problems and joys. On Sunday afternoons he would play board games with his boys and their friends. He had a croconole game board which was designed for 24 different games, and he knew the rules for all of them. He liked to read. In addition to subscribing to several newspapers, he took the Capper's Farmer and other farm magazines, and he also  read the Almanac and seed catalogs.

My mother described her grandfather as "a mild-mannered man." Her cousin Harold Jones spoke of him in a similar manner, that he was quiet and talked very little, was said to have the "second sight." He seemed bowed by the loss of three of his five children.

William appeared with his parents in the special Iowa state census of 1856. His mother died in 1859 when Will was only four years old, after which he lived for a time with his mother's parents. The 1860 census shows William at the age of 4, living with Isaac and Rebecca Benedict.

This photo print of William as a child
was made from a tintype.

In the 1870 census, William is listed in his father's home in Cedar Township, Lee County, Iowa, with stepmother, Sarah Lunn Wolf Jones. In the 1880 census, Will Jones, nephew, age 25, farmer, is living in the home of Will Hammer and his wife Thurza, a sister of Will's deceased mother.

As a young man, Will developed a health problem, probably tuberculosis, and went out west for his health. In Thomas County, Kansas, he homesteaded land and met his future wife, Ionia Ellen Thompson who was about ten years younger than Will. Their marriage was announced in the December 5, 1889 “Local Happenings” column of The Tribune, one of the three newspapers in Colby, Kansas: “Wm. R. Jones and Iona Thompson were married by Justice A. S. Harner of Kingrey township, on the first of this month.” They took up his claim, proved up on it, but never got anything out of it. When weather conditions turned very dry, they gave up on it and went to southeastern Iowa.

One hundred years later (1989), on a drive from Kansas City to Denver, we visited the Thomas County Courthouse in Colby, Kansas, to learn the location of William Jones’ land. The Patent Record, p. 172 of Book 4, shows the date of August 24, 1891 for the property—the northeast quarter of section eight in township nine south of range thirty-five west of the sixth principal meridian in Kansas containing one hundred sixty acres. We were told to look southward from Interstate 70 at the Levant markers 43/44, and that the Jones Homestead would have been located about 2 to 3 miles south. The area consists of miles of rolling wheatfields, broken only by an occasional grain elevator, more frequent than trees. Will must surely have missed the shaded wooded areas and creeks of southeastern Iowa.

The Will Jones Family in Lee County, Iowa, 1908

Will had been a cowboy in Kansas—his grandson Wendell was given his Winchester saddle gun. Will’s  Iowa farm was only about 40 acres and the homeplace north of West Point and south of Lowell was a 13-acre plot right on the Lee County line. Part of the house was actually in Henry County. On Sundays they often went to three different churches—to Sunday School at Lowell Baptist, to afternoon church at Woolen’s Corner Methodist Chuirch and at night they went to the Pickle Church (Methodist).

--genieBev (Genealogy Beverly)
For ideas about how to do Family History, visit:

Monday, July 25, 2011

She Wrote for Newspapers -- in the early 1900s

Ionia Thompson, wife of William R. Jones,
was my great-grandmother.

Ionia Thompson in 1900

Newspapers were important to Ionia and Will. However, subscriptions were an expense which they could not afford on their meager income farming a 40-acre plot near their 13-acre home place on the Lee/Henry County line in Iowa. So for many years, Ionia exchanged weekly reports of community activities in exchange for free subscriptions to several Iowa newspapers. They managed to subscribe regularly to The Kansas City Star, the West Point Bee, the Salem weekly, the Burlington Gazette, and the Ft. Madison newspaper.

Born in Iowa in 1866, Ionia Thompson was the daughter of Charles A. Thompson and Mary Elizabeth James, who met in Illinois. In the midst of the Civil War, Charlie Thompson enlisted in the Union Army on July 4, 1862,  at Winona, Marshall County, Illinois. Thompson served in  the 70th Illinois  Regiment  in Company F which was organized and mustered into the service at Camp Butler. At the depot in Winona, Mary James was there to see him off, and they decided to marry. This had not been planned, but when others were getting married, they decided they would, too. He gave her his gold watch in place of a ring and official ceremony. A marriage license is recorded at Lacon Twp., Marshall, Illinois, 17 June 1863.
Charlie and Mary had nine children, Ionia being their third child. The family lived in various places in Iowa and Missouri, then  moved by 1879 to  Kansas, first to Republic County and soon after the 1885 census to Thomas County.  It was at about this time that Ionia suffered a period of blindness. She and her Normal School classmates were  poring over their books, working on a long reading assignment. She was weary; the words grew dim and she rubbed across her eyes. When she saw only a blur, she rubbed them again.  Her vision was gone. A shrill cry broke the silence in the room as she leaped to her feet in terrorized disbelief, “I’m blind! I’ve gone blind!” An older relative  took her by train to meet with a doctor in New York City. Tests completed, and with a guarded prediction of eventual return of partial vision, they returned home. Ionia’s six-year-old sister became her “eyes.”  Months went by, and slowly her sight returned. Eventually, she had full vision.

Both Ionia and her father homesteaded land in western Kansas as did a young farmer from Iowa named William Ransom Jones. Will and Ionia married on December 1,1889 in Gilmore, near Colby, Kansas. I found the announcement of their marriage in  microfilmed newspapers in the archives of the Kansas Historical Society.  In the Tribune for Dec. 5, 1889: “Marriage notice given! for Wm. R. Jones and Iona Thompson.” In the Colby Free Press for Dec. 12, 1889, “Matrimonially speaking, Colby is getting there. One wedding this week. Two or three more are on the tapis, and if you keep a sharp eye you can successfully conjuecture who the parties are.”

Ionia’s obituary (1939) states that she taught school in Kansas for about five years.  Family records and her autograph book usually show the spelling of her name as Ionia or her nickname Ona. Her husband called her Onie. Thomas County newspapers faithfully reported the names of its schoolteachers, and even the grades they earned at Normal School while learning how to teach. I found her listed as the teacher at Gilmore in 1888-1889, her name spelled in a variety of ways – Ona Thompson, Iona Thompson, and finally on December 19, 1889, almost three weeks after her marriage, “Teachers in Thomas County, all of Colby,  . . .  Iona Jones.” Perhaps she was allowed to continue teaching even after marriage, but that would have been unusual in that time frame.

Ionia’s first child, a daughter Versa Bell, was born in March of 1891 in Thomas County, Kansas; she died in Iowa at the age of 2 1/2. The winter blizzards and the summer droughts had compelled the family to return to southeastern Iowa, where Will Jones had family and a desire to farm near them. Ionia's parents and siblings went further west, a move that separated Ionia permanently from them.

Will and Ionia, 1892

A second daughter, my grandmother Annetta May Jones, was born in Iowa in November of 1894. Three sons followed, one of whom died at the age of 21, another at 34. Nettie’s brother Lloyd was almost exactly two years younger than Nettie, her birthday being November 24 and his on November 25. They often combined their birthday celebrations with a holiday gathering for Thanksgiving, bringing their entire families together. And in the tradition of small town newspapers, these occasions were reported by a succession of community news reporters, carrying on Ionia’s tradition.
--genieBev (genealogist Beverly)
For ideas about how to do Family History, visit:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Getting to Know Them -- Learning From My Ancestors

Knowing about our family heritage teaches us about ourselves.

Family History is a collection of stories:  His-Story and Her-Story.

I was an only child. Perhaps that is why I have long embraced the pursuit of family history.  It’s nice to be a part of something big. And sharing this heritage now with my children and grandchildren is a joy.

I had early exposure to family history by attending family reunions and going to cemeteries to decorate family graves. I was aware that the dates and names associated with births and marriages and deaths were being recorded by my parents and grandparents. Photographs were made and kept, sometimes even carefully labeled. My grandfather broadened my world view when he shared his maps, showing me where his grandfathers had lived before coming to America. Certain treasured objects were associated with a particular person or event. Memories were shared; stories were told and retold.

In 1976 our country celebrated its bicentennial. That summer, my favorite novel was James Michener’s Centennial in which over a hundred-year period, one family’s history unfolded dramatically. As I read, I noted some parallels to my own family’s movements across the country during the same era as described by my grandmother in a book she had compiled in 1968 about her mother’s family line. I decided to launch my own personal celebration of the Bicentennial with a goal of identifying all my immigrant ancestors. In this pursuit, I’ve identified hundreds of relatives and encountered some fascinating stories. I became a family historian and subsequently a professional genealogist.

The FAMILY is a significant social institution. This is true world-wide, not just in American culture. We are shaped by our family, both physically and emotionally.  Our values reflect the decisions and traditions of those who have gone before us.  Every family has its stories to tell. And in some families,  these stories are passed down from one generation to another. Moreover, each family member creates recorded footprints along the way. Recorded history can often supplement or explain the actions and attitudes of a relative, even one not known in person. This is what motivates persons to seek out details of their family’s history.

Lately, I’ve been pondering what I’ve learned from my ancestors. I’m going to explore that in this blog. I plan to randomly write about one ancestor at a tme, reflecting on what they did and what that means to me. Perhaps, readers, you will see some parallels in your own backgrounds or become curious enough to enlarge your own collection of family stories and celebrate your heritage.

--genieBev   (genealogist Beverly)