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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.

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.

A Return to the Riddles

Back in the 90’s, I spent a tremendous amount of time researching my Riddle family line. I had a great deal of assistance from two other Riddle researchers, James Anderson and Ruby Prestly, both now deceased. We compiled our information and related our findings in a short book about Olive Dunbar Riddle (1823-1902) and her descendants. We used Olive as our subject because we could trace her ancestry to colonial times.

Her husband, John Davis Riddle, provides more of a challenge. We never could find a birth family for him. Now, twenty years later, I plan to spend this year trying to find out more about him.

I have these facts about his life:

  1. John Davis Riddle was born on either the 10th or 15th of May 1821 in Pennsylvania. I do not know the birth county or who his parents were.
  2. He married Olive Hall Dunbar on 12 January 1843 in Summit County, Ohio. Oddly, his name on the record appears as John Davis, not John Davis Riddle.
  3. On 9 September 1847, John and Olive sold Ohio land she had inherited.
  4. By 1849, they had moved to Mendon, St. Joseph County, Michigan where they spent the remainder of their lives.
  5. John (or J. D., as he was commonly known) and Olive raised a family of eight children. They also raised a grandson.
  6. John became blind in his later years. He lost one eye in an accident, and he developed a cataract in the other.
  7. Fearing blindness and poverty, John committed suicide by hanging himself in his barn on 20 August 1896. He was 75 years old.

Thus, my family tree for the Riddle line ends with John Davis Riddle. I would love to extend it this year.

When I worked on this project previously, James and Ruby and I represented family lines descending from three of the Riddle children. James’ ancestor was Theodocia Riddle Evert, Ruby’s was John Hoxey Riddle, and mine was Laura Riddle Edmonds. Now, I know of no other Riddle researchers in this family. I am in this alone.

My research resumes with investigation all the rich resources on the Seeking Michigan website (http://seekingmichigan.org/). They have collected all sorts of Michigan records that I had not seen in my previous research. Last week I found John and Olive on the 1884 Michigan state census.

With new records to find, it should be a satisfying year for research. I hope I can move this family back a generation.

On the Hunt for George Edmonds

This year I am resuming my research on the Riddle line. My Riddle great-grandmother, Laura, reportedly had a husband named George Edmonds in the 1880’s. He left behind very few records, and I know little about him. Something bad or tragic seems to have happened between the two of them because he disappeared from her life, leaving her with three young sons to raise. Laura resumed the use of her maiden name and never married again.

George Edmond’s name appears in just a few Michigan records:

  1. The 1880 U. S. census record for Leonidas, St. Joseph County, Michigan where George Edmonds appears as a 31-year-old farm laborer and head of household with his wife, Laura and 3 sons. This census record reports that George was born about 1849 in New York.
  2. The birth record for the youngest son, Joseph Enis, on 15 January 1880, at Leonidas, St. Joseph County, Michigan lists the father as Geore Edmonds.
  3. The birth record for the eldest son, Francis, on 8 April 1876 at Niles, Berrien County, Michigan lists the father as George Edmuns.
  4. The 1870 U. S. census record for Hamilton, Van Buren County, Michigan enumerates a George Edmonds who may or may not be the same man. This 21-year-old George, also born about 1849 in New York, worked as a farm laborer in the Jacob Mayer household. The Mayer family was from New York.

That’s it. No marriage record and no death record for George has been found. He disappears from the record after 1880.

By 1884, the Michigan State Census reports Laura Edmunds and the three boys in the household of her father, J. D. Riddle in Mendon, St. Joseph County. Laura is listed as married, not widowed. The next year, she drops her married name, and she and her boys join her sister Theodocia Riddle Evert in Nebraska. Laura acquires a homestead in Red Willow County near McCook.

What happened to George? Where was he from, and who were his people? As I search for information on the Riddle family this year, I hope to uncover some answers.