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The Dunbars Come to Life

My great-grandmother, Laura Riddle, grew up on a farm in Mendon, St. Joseph County, Michigan. Her parents, John Riddle and Olive Dunbar, moved there in the late 1840’s, and Laura was born in 1853.

I do not know why the Riddles migrated from Ohio to Michigan. I have never found any members of the Riddle/Dunbar circle who beckoned Olive and John Riddle to that place at that time. Their motive for relocation and their reason for choosing Michigan as their destination remain a mystery. They appear to have been true pioneers.

This week I learned that even though the Riddles did not seem to follow anyone else when they moved to Michigan, others in Olive’s family later followed them. Her older sister Susan H. Dunbar Cutting’s family went to live in the same township during the Civil War. I had not suspected this because Susan Cutting later returned to Ohio and was buried there. I had no reason to believe she ever lived anywhere else.

This information came to light when I received obituaries for Susan and her daughter-in-law Amanda from the Akron, Ohio public library. After reviewing the obituaries, I went to Find A Grave (www.findagrave.com) seeking more information on the Cutting family. It was sketchy.

I decided to help fill it in by submitting an Edit suggestion for Susan’s memorial to connect her to her parents, Rhoda Hall and Benjamin E. Dunbar. The memorial manager responded immediately, not only by posting the connections, but also by adding a tremendous amount of biographical information for Susan and her family. Thus, I learned that they had spent time in Michigan. Both of Susan’s daughters, Mary and Clara, had died young in St. Joseph County, Michigan. Mary Edna Cutting Ulum had wed and died in childbirth during the family’s Michigan stint. Unmarried Clara Cutting died about the same time.

My great-grandmother Laura had had first cousins on her mother’s side of the family living nearby only to lose them to untimely deaths.

Susan’s Find A Grave memorial had information about Susan’s son, DeWitt Clinton Cutting, too. He had served in the 128th Ohio Infantry during the Civil War.

These people seem more real to me now that I know a bit more about their lives. The Riddles, instead of being isolated in Michigan, had close connections with at least some of their relatives on the Dunbar side. They did not simply move north and lose all contact with family.

Olive had numerous other siblings in addition to Susan Cutting. Perhaps I can use some of the same strategies to find out more about some of them, too.

Good Library Help from Indiana and Ohio

Recently I read an article by Curt Witcher, a well-known genealogy librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Indiana. He wrote about getting more online for your family history.

He suggests that a good research plan begins with checking the local public library. These libraries often have searchable records or links to other important sites.

I decided to give this a try and look for more information on my brick wall ancestor John Davis Riddle who married Olive Dunbar in Summit County, Ohio in 1843. I do not have any information about J. D. Riddle before that date except that he was born in 1821 in Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of the Summit County libraries would have some resources to help along my search for him.

I know that Olive Dunbar lived in the city of Stow in Summit County prior to her marriage, so I began there. I found that the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library website (http://www.smfpl.org/) has a genealogy section.

This website proved quite valuable. There a found a map of Stow from the time when my Dunbar family lived there. I filed it away for future reference.

I also found a link to the online index of Ohio obituaries at the Rutherford B. Hayes library. It names the Ohio newspaper that printed each obituary and tells where to find it.

Some of Olive Dunbar’s siblings had remained in the Stow area, and I found several family names on this index. A couple of their obituaries had been printed in the Akron, Ohio newspaper. The index pointed me to the Akron-Summit County Public Library (http://www.akronlibrary.org/) which offers an obituary look-up service at no cost for electronic copies. I collected these and filled in more of Olive Dunbar’s family tree.

Unfortunately, I have not yet found the Riddle family name on any of these library resources. The origin of John Davis Riddle remains a mystery.

There may be more for me to discover in the libraries of Summit County. I have not yet given up hope. If nothing turns up there, I will move on to the next step suggested by Mr. Witcher—the State library.

To Join or Not to Join Facebook

Facebook has appeared in the news quite a bit lately. The social media giant has suffered bad press for allowing scraping of users’ data for nefarious purposes. According to reports, some people have decided to abandon Facebook in response to these allegations.

No need for me to do that. I have never joined it. My reasons for avoiding Facebook included the very issues that now plague the company. This morning’s Wall Street Journal summarized them nicely:

  1. Lost privacy,
  2. Political manipulation, and
  3. Social media addiction.

While all around me, our relatives, friends, and neighbors spend hours on Facebook swapping photos and stories of the minutia of their days, I have remained blissfully free of what I view as a monumental waste of time. Now, with the new revelations about Facebook and how the company handles personal data entrusted to it, I need not worry if they have compromised my personal information. They do not have it.

Will Facebook disappear because of this controversy? I do not think so. It offers some valuable features that many people want. For example, genealogists really like it.

This week the speaker at my local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society, Dave Barton, delivered a program titled Using Social Media for Genealogy Research. He spent a great deal of his time discussing the value of Facebook for this. He pointed out that genealogists can find many Facebook groups that cater to them:

  1. General genealogy groups,
  2. Location specific groups,
  3. Surname specific groups,
  4. Genetic genealogy groups,
  5. Organization/society groups.

These groups tempt me. Dave pointed out that they stepped into the void when the genealogy message boards ended. These groups offer a forum for connecting with distant cousins and learning more about specialized topics. Dave also mentioned that some societies and organizations use Facebook pages in lieu of maintaining websites.

Should I join to take advantage of these groups? I keep thinking about it. If I knew I could keep an account focused solely on genealogy, I might do it.

I did try that once before, setting up a business page for this blog. I found it useless. Facebook users could visit my page, but I could not use the account to visit other pages. I quickly abandoned it and have not attempted to log in for several years. The Genealogy Jottings Facebook page is likely defunct.

I would have to create a personal account to get on Facebook and begin visiting groups that interest me. Perhaps I will, after the Facebook hoopla dies down and we see what protections the company provides to its users. A bright light shines on Facebook’s bad acts, and their leader must appear before Congress to answer for them. Something will change, and then I will make my decision.

George Edmonds—Another Clue

Family lore tells me that my great-grandmother Laura Riddle (1853-1933) once married a man named George Edmonds. Who was he, and what happened to him?

I have never found a marriage record for this wedding, but George and Laura did have three sons together. Francis (Frank) was born in Berrien County, Michigan in 1876; Lewis was born in St. Joseph County, Michigan in 1877; and Joseph was born also in St. Joseph County in 1880. The 1880 U.S. census reports the young family living in Leonidas, St. Joseph County, Michigan where George (born in NY about 1849) worked as a farm laborer. George Edmonds, farm laborer, also appeared on the 1870 U.S. census for Van Buren County, Michigan.

By 1884, George no longer lived with Laura and the boys. The 1884 Michigan State Census records her and her sons in the household of her father, John Davis Riddle. George Edmonds’ name does not appear on this census. No one in my modern-day family knew why the family split up or where George went after 1880. Perhaps he had died…

About twenty years ago, I took a stab at unraveling this mystery. Back then, research was expensive. To look at microfilmed Michigan records I had to pay to order microfilm rolls from the Family History Center. Money was tight with teenage boys in my household. Rarely did I feel I had the money to order multiple rolls of film from St. Joseph and surrounding counties to find records of George Edmonds.

When I did splurge to order a film, I usually found nothing about George. If he died in St. Joseph County, his death was not recorded. He never seemed to own any land. The only clue that turned up was an 1884 marriage index entry showing a George Edmonds marrying Mauda Kathkart. Was this the same George? I did not order the record but kept the clue for later followup.

Ordering county records directly from St. Joseph County back then was difficult. The judge there was unfriendly to genealogists and instituted a policy whereby only his approved researcher (just one) could view and copy the county records. The county court would not respond to mail inquiries. This policy made county courthouse research impractical and had a real chilling effect on St. Joseph County research.

Since those days, Michigan research has become much simpler. The Family History Center has many of their Michigan microfilm rolls online. The website Seeking Michigan (seekingmichigan.org) provides even more online records. I decided to look again for George Edmonds.

This week on Family Search I navigated to the 1884 St. Joseph County marriage records. Instead of an index, I could now see the county record itself for the Edmonds-Kathkart marriage. It contains a great deal of information not included in the index I had viewed so many years ago. I learned this George, like mine, was born in 1849 in New York. The record even provides a specific birthplace—Chatauqua County. The marriage took place in Sturgis, Michigan, but both parties were residents of La Grange County, Indiana, just south of the state line. The bride was only 16 years old.

It looks like George left Laura and the children to marry a girl half Laura’s age. Armed with George’s birthplace and his 1884 Indiana residence, I may now be able to track him through time to find out more about his family. Going back to look at the original county record has opened some promising new lines of inquiry.

I still do not know whether George and Laura formally married. She resumed her Riddle maiden name after their parting. The boys were usually known by their Edmonds surname although the middle son, Lewis, sometimes went by Riddle.

As I continue to investigate what happened to George Edmonds, I need to keep in mind that there was more than one man with that name in Michigan and Indiana during this time period. Untangling these individuals will not be easy.

A False Lead in the Search for John Davis Riddle

Oftentimes, we genealogists hear cautionary advice about trusting family trees we find online. So many of these have no sources attached, and we cannot verify the information. In other words, we cannot take a family found on the internet and assume it is correct.

This month I learned the soundness of this advice. For years, I have searched for the birth family for my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). Family papers and the U.S. census for Michigan tell me that he was born in Pennsylvania.

As I resumed research on him and his line this year, again I looked online for any family trees that included his name. Usually I have found nothing, but this time I located a tree connecting him to a Riddle family in Chester County, Pennsylvania. A clue, at last! Was this the breakthrough I have sought so long?

I eagerly contacted the person who had posted the tree. I wanted to find out how they had matched the Davis/David Riddle in Pennsylvania to the John Davis Riddle of Mendon, Michigan. My hopes were dashed after we exchanged messages. Unfortunately, the person had simply hypothesized this relationship without any real proof. He/she had added John Davis Riddle and his children to the online tree on spec, hoping to locate relatives and to identify DNA matches. The posted tree was a fishing expedition although it was not labeled as such.

Am I again at a dead end? Perhaps my John Davis Riddle did hail from the Riddles of Chester County. But so far, no one seems to have any documentation for that. It is disappointing that an unproven family tree was out there to mislead the unwary.

After my correspondence with the person who posted the erroneous tree, it has been removed. But how long had it been up there? I wonder how many people viewed it and copied the unproven relationship into their own trees before I questioned the information. I hope they all knew to verify family trees they found online.

I make it a practice in my own research to post only information that I have verified. I have provided source lists for every fact I put online. You will not find hypothesized information in my online trees.

The hunt for a family for John Davis Riddle continues.

Celebrate St. Urho’s Day

Perhaps you have not heard of Saint Urho. Tomorrow, March 16, will be St. Urho’s Day, and Finns like me will gather to celebrate.

This special day falls one day before that of the more widely-known St. Patrick’s Day. The date is fitting because St. Urho and St. Patrick have something in common.

St. Patrick, as you probably know, is famous for driving the snakes from Ireland. St. Urho accomplished a similar feat. He drove the grasshoppers from Finland, saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers. He used the famous phrase Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen (meaning “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go to Hell!”).

Now, if this story sounds suspicious to you, perhaps it is because St. Urho is a made-up character. His feast day began in the 1950’s in the upper Midwest of the United States. Finns there wanted a reason to begin drinking green beer a day before the Irish. From there the hilarity spread, and nowadays Finns everywhere, even in Finland, celebrate St. Urho’s day. They mark the occasion by wearing the colors of grasshoppers and wine, namely Nile green and royal purple.

If you want to get a head start on your St. Patrick’s Day festivities, go ahead and join all the Finns in raising a glass to St. Urho. I will be joining some Finnish friends to do the same.

Three Nebraska Homesteads

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened up settlement in the western United States. Adult heads of families could apply for land at little or no cost in return for five years of residence on the land. A quirk in the law, intentionally or not, allowed women to apply for a homestead. This enabled many women with no other means of support to establish small farms and later sell them, pocketing a nice sum of cash to live on.

My great-grandmother, Laura Riddle (1853-1933), was one of these women. She had three homesteads in Nebraska:

  1. Lands near McCook, Red Willow County. In 1885, Laura made a cash entry on a tract near one owned by her sister and brother-in-law, Theodocia and John Evert. Laura was newly-arrived from Michigan with three young sons in tow. That summer she paid the cash entry fee of $200 for 160 acres in Section 22: T 3 N, R 29 W. She and the boys lived there nearly 10 years.
  2. Lands near Palisade but in Hayes County. In the early 1890s, the Everts decided to move on to northern Nebraska. They left Red Willow County. We do not know why Laura did not accompany them. Perhaps she had a boyfriend. Whatever the reason, she and the two sons remaining at home instead headed west to the Palisade area and filed on a quarter section in Hayes County. Laura proved up this homestead in Section 33: T 5 N, R 33 W in 1899.
  3. Lands near Haigler, Dundy County. A 160-acre homestead in the arid west did not provide much of a living. Laura had a very hard time. Finally, the government came around and allowed for larger homesteads, more suitable for stock raising. At the suggestion of her friend Leslie Lawton, Laura decided to take advantage of this opportunity. She and her sons Lewis and Joseph left Palisade and filed on larger homesteads that had become available farther west. In 1912, she proved up her claim to lands in Sections 8 & 9 in T 3 N, R 41 W.

Eventually, when she was in her early 70’s, Laura decided to sell out. About 1926, she returned to Palisade and bought a house with the proceeds from the sale of the Dundy County homestead. Lewis and Joseph went with her and took odd jobs in town. All three lived out their days in the small community. They are buried side-by-side in the Palisade Cemetery. Homesteading had offered a way for all of them to make a living.

Now I want to see these homesteads. This summer I plan to take a genealogy road trip to visit each one. I will also stop at the local libraries and courthouses to look for more information on the lives of these Nebraska ancestors. Many years ago, I made the same trip, my first research journey. I had much less information about these people then, and I did not have the location information for the homesteads. We can be more thorough in our research this time.

Unknown Brothers

Years ago, when I first began researching my paternal grandmother’s family, I asked her for some family history. She claimed to know nothing about her family other than her mother’s name, Laura Riddle. She suggested that I contact my grandfather’s sister Bertha instead. I thought this a little strange, wondering how a sister-in-law would know more about Grandma’s family than she did herself. I failed to follow up at that time.

My grandmother passed away several years later at the age of 79, but her sister-in-law lived much longer. When she was nearly ninety, I finally contacted Bertha and asked about Grandma’s parents.

She responded immediately, and her letter contained surprising information. She told me that Laura had been married to a man named George Edmonds. Even more surprising, she said that George and Laura had three sons. My grandmother had three older half-brothers, men my grandmother had never mentioned to her own children and certainly not to me. Bertha provided their names but said she thought they were all dead.

Armed with this information, I have been able to verify her information and document the lives of the brothers. All were born in Michigan around 1880 and before. While they were still young, George Edmonds left the scene for an unknown reason while Laura and her sons migrated to a Nebraska homestead.

After learning this, I began gathering any information I could find on these men, my great-uncles:

  1. Francis “Frank” Edmonds (1876-1944). He became a sheep herder in Wyoming and Montana. He died from a broken neck when he fell from his horse, and he is buried in Great Falls, Montana.
  2. Lewis “Louie” Edmonds (1877-1935). He traveled between the homes of his mother in Nebraska and his relatives in Michigan doing odd jobs. A distant cousin recalled that he carved little wooden toys for her. He is buried in a family plot in Palisade, Nebraska.
  3. Joseph Enis “Joe” Edmonds (1880-1956). He lived always with his mother. Together, they left the Palisade homestead about 1904 and took up new homesteads near Haigler, Nebraska. Several years later, they retired back in Palisade. I have a good description of Joe from his WWII draft registration card where he was described as 5’10” tall and 135 pounds with brown hair and eyes.

Why had my grandmother never mentioned her brothers? Bertha said Grandma had known them but did not like them. Perhaps she wanted bad memories to stay buried. I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone. She may have subscribed to the old advice that if you cannot say something nice about someone, do not say anything at all.

Grandma definitely kept her own children in the dark about their maternal family. Yet thanks to her hint about contacting Bertha, I have filled out her Family Group Sheet.

Sidetracked

My self-assigned genealogy task for this year is to further the research on my Riddle line. This week I got sidetracked. I made no progress on that line, but I did locate information on another.

One of the genealogy blogs I follow provides a regular list of new databases on Ancestry and Family Search. I scan the titles for resources I might be able to use. This week I saw that Montana divorces had become available.

I have Montana ancestors in my Norwegian line, but as far as I knew, none had been divorced. Still, there was one great-aunt who I thought was a possible candidate.

I had met her only a couple of times over the years, and we did correspond some. Her husband had worked in another state, so I never knew him. I did know that they lived apart, but no one ever said they were divorced. I just thought he found work more easily elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the search of the Montana database was simple, so I plugged in their names. Sure enough, I found a Montana divorce certificate issued for the couple when I was just a toddler.

Norwegians in my family are notoriously private, so no wonder I never heard about this divorce. No one would have said anything about it to me unless I had come out and asked directly. Of course, I never would have dared offer such an intrusive question. Now that both parties are deceased, it does not feel so nosy of me to learn more about this couple.

I spent the rest of my research time this week documenting this event and trying to learn more about the man who had once been part of my family. I found his memorial on FindAGrave.com. I found his family entry in the county history for Sheridan County, Montana.

I did get sidetracked, but I did not waste my time. Next week I will get back to the Riddles.

A Possible Breakthrough on the Riddle Line

This year, my research focuses on my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). His origins have eluded me despite many years of searching. Other descendants have had no better luck.

From family papers we knew he was born in Pennsylvania. This source does not name a specific town or county, nor does it name his parents. Only genealogical research could reveal this information.

A study of his life showed us that J. D. Riddle, as he was known, had moved his young family to Mendon, Michigan in the late 1840’s. He farmed there for the rest of his life. We easily documented that period.

We also learned that he and his wife Olive Hall Dunbar were married in Summit County, Ohio in 1843. Her family lived there, but we could not identify a family for John in the area during that time. Nothing we could find provided a clue as to his family or birthplace.

Who were his people? When and why did he relocate from Pennsylvania to Ohio?

This week, for the umpteenth time, I decided to look at the family trees on Ancestry and Family Search to see if there was anything new on John Davis Riddle. I have always hoped his information had been preserved by a collateral line.

And this week, I found a tree claiming to connect John Davis Riddle to a Pennsylvania family in the 1830’s. Eureka!

I will not post this information to my own tree until I have been able to verify it. If correct, this will be a huge find. I can hardly wait to get started.