Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wendal Davis Willis: Patriot, Farmer, and My 3rd Great-Grandfather

Pension Application
Wendal Willis was born on the 24th of March 1794 in Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts. His parents were Zebulon and Susanna Bartlett. At the tender age of 17, he signed up to fight the Brits during the War of 1812. He was a private in Captain Swift's Co., 1st Regiment, Massachusetts Militia according to the War of 1812 Pension Application Files. The war began on June 18, 1812 and officially ended on February 18, 1815. Our brave young soldier didn't waste any time as a bachelor when his military service ended; he married Sarah "Sally" Gibbs on March 18, 1815 in Sandwich, Barnstable, Massachusetts. Their first child, named for his father, was born in 1816, followed by a daughter, Susan, in 1833, and sons Samuel in 1834 and Russell in 1838. According to the information referenced below, I am missing a few children.

There are many records besides the census, and sometimes the most exciting revelations can be found online just by searching a place name. I located a book titled "1895 Landmark Book, Oswego County, NY" and a chapter about the town of Constantia. To my surprise, my family was mentioned:
"Wendell Willis came to the town in January, 1837, had eleven children, and died here about 1877; his widow's death occurred June 1, 1883."

By August of 1850, Grandpa had become a successful landowner and ran a busy, successful farming operation in Constantia. The Non-Population Schedule, or Census, describes the farm in detail: 149 acres, combined cash value of $1915, numbers of horses, milk cows, cattle, sheep, and swine, and produce including wheat, corn, oats, pounds of wool, Irish potatoes, butter, cheese (100 pounds!), and hay.

Location of Constantia

New York took a state census between the federal counts and the Willis family showed up in the 1855, 1865, and 1875 records. These records give interesting details. They lived in a framed house valued at $500 (the 2nd most expensive residence of the 19 nearby farms in 1855). The couple were alone by 1860 as their children had moved on. In 1870, daughter Susan and her small child Ida were living with mom and dad when the worth of their real and personal estate had grown to $3150. Son Samuel, his wife Margaret, and their four young children lived two doors away.

Five years later, the Willis farmers remained near each other in Constantia where Grandpa and Grandma could enjoy watching their grandchildren grow up. The population in this small village had risen to 3,483 souls from only 1,193 in 1830. The number of persons residing here decreased slowly and would not reach 3000 for one hundred years - in 1970.

Wendal Davis Willis died in 1876 at age 82. He was a hard-working man and a credit to those who follow. May God be with you, Grandpa.

Constantia Center Cemetery

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Great-Aunt Mollie Cox

Mary (known as Mollie) Cox was born on the 20th of August 1869 in Colerain, Belmont, Ohio. Her parents were Thomas Cox and Ida Viola Connelly Cox, my paternal great-grandparents. Mollie was their first of six children and the only girl. She was listed as Mary in the census records of 1870 and 1880. In the 1888 City Directory of Wheeling, West Virginia, she became Miss Mollie Cox and would remain Mollie on most future records.

On June 9, 1889, Mollie married Richard Burnside Turner at the home of her parents. Her mother, Ida, gave permission for her daughter to marry, as by 1889, her father was confined to the National Soldier's Home. Three children were born to this union: Gretta in 1889, William Thomas in 1892, and Sarah Ann in 1904. Married women routinely had children at least every two years during this time period, so it is likely Mollie had other children who died in infancy or were lost to miscarriage or stillbirth.
Marriage Record

Mollie lived in Wheeling for the rest of her life and endured a number of losses; her baby brother Eddie died when she was 10, followed later by her father, brother Fred, and brother William.

In 1917, the United States entered World War I on the side of her allies. The following year, the world would have another deadly fight on its hands; The Great Pandemic. Popularly known as the Spanish Flu, influenza arrived in Europe with the American military troops who survived the Fort Riley, Kansas outbreak of 1918. It spread quickly and killed millions in the space of two years including an estimated 675,000 Americans. Exact numbers were hard to come by since there were many who died at home in rural areas far from a hospital or physician.
Pneumonia was a common, and usually fatal, complication. Another frightening aspect of the disease was that it killed mostly young, healthy adults rather than small children and the elderly as is the case today.
(Sources: and Meador, Michael M., "The Influenza Epidemic of 1918." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 27 August 2012).

Greenwood Cemetery

On November 21, 1918, Mollie's daughter Gretta died in Wheeling Hospital from complications of Spanish Flu. Her mother, Mollie, died of the same disease on March 17, 1919. Gretta was 29, Mollie 49. They were both buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Wheeling, West Virginia. RIP, Aunt Mollie.

Mollie's Death Certificate

Monday, August 22, 2016

Great-Grandma Anna Morgan

Anna Morgan was born on the 20th of September 1846 in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. Her parents were Patrick Morgan and Katherine (Kitty) McAlpine. She is listed on the English Census record of 1861 living with her parents and sisters Mary, 17, and Margaret, 6. At the tender age of 16, Anna married an Irish immigrant, John O'Malley, on September 13, 1863 at the Catholic Chapel on Oxford St., Wolverhampton. Her father, Patrick Moughan (sic) is listed on the marriage record. Her first three daughters were born here: Mary in 1864, Catherine in 1866, and Sarah in 1867.

During the family's stay in England, a special visitor came to Wolverhampton. In 1866, Her Royal Majesty Queen Victoria arrived to celebrate the unveiling of a statue of her late husband, Prince Albert. The town square was arrayed in bunting with seating for the queen's entourage and special guests, and a portico erected for Her Majesty's comfort. As usual, she was dressed in black as she continued to mourn her great personal loss. I like to think that my working-class family was able to catch a glimpse of the proceedings and be a part of the excitement.

Two years later, in 1868, Anna, her husband, the three girls, sister Margaret and her parents climbed aboard the Clara Wheeler for the lengthy and uncomfortable trip across the Atlantic to the New World. I wonder who introduced the idea to embark on such a life-changing voyage. Was it John's idea? Maybe Patrick wanted a go of it before he got any older? Was Ann excited or too weary after having three babies in three years to care? Or was this the plan all along? We will likely never know.

Clara Wheeler

In June, the ship landed at Castle Garden, New York, where the passengers were processed. The Williamsburgh area of Brooklyn became the O'Malley's first stop where they lived until about 1874. Daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, and son John were born here. Sadly, daughter Catherine died of croup in 1869. She was buried in Brooklyn. Between the crowded conditions in the tenement they shared with ten other families, the multiple pregnancies, and the loss of her second child, it was a bumpy beginning to Anna's life in America.

According to the 1875 Minnesota State Census, the O'Malley family had relocated and was living next door to Patrick and Katherine Morgan in Winona. Anna was pregnant again with her seventh child, Kathryn. Then came Ann, Charles, Grace, and finally, May, my grandmother. Her only sons, John and Charles, died as young children. After the death of the boys, they adopted a Norwegian child named 'Johnny' and he, too, died young. John O'Malley would have no sons to carry on the family name.

Anna's next move would be her last. In the spring of 1878, the family took up residence at the homestead they had applied for in Murray County, Minnesota. There they would build a home and farm the land for the rest of Anna's life. I located a story written by a farmer's wife living somewhere in the Midwest called "Farm Wife, 1900" (at The anonymous author describes her typical day on the farm. This is a paraphrased and edited account:
'Up at 4 a.m., start the kitchen fire, sweep the floors, cook breakfast for husband and children, milk the cows, turn the cattle and cows to pasture, fetch water from the spring for the sheep and horse,
feed the pigs and chickens, tend to the children, clean the kitchen, do the churning, hoe out the garden weeds, eat a cold dinner, rest, sow a flower bed, repair a fence, get supper, water the horse, milk the cows, round up the animals for the night, feed chickens and pigs, eat supper, clean up, bed.'
And she only had two children! The idyllic notion of life on a rural farm doesn't match the work that it took to keep body-and-soul together while making a living without the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing or electricity. Not to mention the dreadful Midwest winters. The hard truth of my ancestors' lives leaves me to wonder if I could have been as successful as a mother and farm wife as dear Anna.

O'Malley Homestead 2010
Death Record
Anna Morgan O'Malley

The family farm was sold in May 1903. One month later, Anna died in a Minneapolis hospital of septicemia after stepping on a rusty nail at the farm. She was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Currie, Murray County. After a lifetime filled with difficult work and the death of five of her thirteen children (not all of their names are known), Anna did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of retirement and a quieter, more peaceful life. God Bless you, Grandma Anna.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Great-Grandma Ida Viola

Ida Viola Connelly, my paternal great-grandmother, was born on the 5th of November, 1849, in Wheeling, Virginia. Her parents were William Eaton Connelly and Sarah Ann Holliday. Her name occurs on each extant decennial U.S. Federal Census, and in the 1890 Wheeling City Directory. She lived in Wheeling most of her life except for a short stay in Belmont, Ohio, where her first child was born.

Wheeling played a significant role in the opening of the "west" along with the growth of industry in the 1800's. According to the City of Wheeling web site (, the National Road, the nation's first roadway, reached Wheeling from Cumberland, Maryland, in 1818 and proved to be a boon to commerce. During the Civil War, the city was loyal to the Federal Government and a movement to establish the new state of West Virginia began here. Finally, in June 1863, she was admitted to the Union as a separate state.

Industry flourished in and around Wheeling thanks to the ease of transport along the Ohio River. Iron, steel, and glass works played a big part in the development of the region and many men in Ida's extended family found work in the factories.

Ida and Thomas Cox were married on November 28, 1868, at the home of her parents. The war was over and it was time to begin a family. Mary was born in 1869. She married Richard Turner, a Fireman in Wheeling, and died at 49 of the Spanish Flu. The first son, William, was born in 1872. He was a bricklayer by occupation and married twice; first, to Lena Berger, and second, to Catherine Kain. He died at 31 of pneumonia. Her second son, Thomas Nelson, was born in 1875. He worked as a bricklayer like his brother and married Lillian Lewis. He died at 73 of  myocardial insufficiency and hypertensive heart disease. Eddie was born in 1876 and lived only 4 years, dying of measles. Finally, her twins, Frank (my grandfather) and Fred were born in 1881. Fred was a machinist and died after a tragic accident at the Wheeling Hinge Company in 1899. He was 18 years old.

When her twins were still young, Ida become active in the Women's Relief Corps (WRC), a branch of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), She was the wife of a veteran, and the Holliday GAR post was named after John W Holliday, her maternal grandmother's brother. The GAR was a fraternal organization made up of Civil War Veterans who fought on the side of the Union. The women of the WRC assisted the GAR, organized and participated in the observance of Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), and petitioned the government for nurses pensions. Beginning with the December, 1889 issue of the Wheeling Register newspaper, several articles were written about local WRC activities, and Ida was mentioned in many of them. She was elected at a "Conductor" of the Holliday Corps in an 1889 meeting. In 1891, she was installed as the Secretary and member of the GAR board of directors. In a following article, she was noted to be the President, and later the same year, was appointed Assistant National Inspector authorized to inspect all WRC in West Virginia. 1893 found her in charge of a festive celebration held at Whiteman's Grove in Wheeling--Grand Army Day. Complete with dancing, a camp fire for the vets, plenty of food, and child care provided, it lasted well past dark. Great-Grandma was a busy lady and generous with her time.

Beginning in 1895, Ida suffered a series of heart-breaking losses. Her husband Thomas died in 1895 at the National Soldier's Home in Virginia, and Ida was forced to apply for a widow's pension. Four years later, her daughter-in-law Lena, wife of son William, died after only one year of marriage. William followed her in death in 1904. Her son Fred died suddenly after a work-related accident in 1899. Between 1894 and 1916, sister Francis Sophia and brother Benjamin died. So much loss over a period of 20 years is difficult to imagine. Her family was dwindling, and with it the support and comfort she required to keep going. Thankfully, there remained extended family in Wheeling, and these children and grandchildren were surely a solace to Ida. She must have had a number of friends nearby as well.

Ida Viola & Ida Isabelle Cox, her granddaughter
Ida Viola died of uterine carcinoma on the 16th of August 1917, and was buried at Mt Wood Cemetery in Wheeling among many of her family. She played a significant role in her community, cared for an ailing husband, and buried several children. I believe she enjoyed working alongside other socially involved women to assist the aging, and often debilitated, veterans of the terrible war. I wish I had known you, sweet Grandma Ida.

Mt Wood Cemetery

Declaration for Original Pension

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thomas Cox, Civil War Veteran

Thomas Cox is my paternal great-grandfather, father of Frank Ellwood Cox, my father's father. He was born in Stark County, Ohio, in 1837. The 1840 Federal Census lists his father Lyman living in Jackson, Virginia, with one male under 5 (Thomas), one male 30-39 (Lyman), and one female 15-19 (mother? aunt? boarder?) for a total of three persons at the residence. By 1850, young Thomas, now 13 years old, lived in Jefferson, Ohio, with his parents and six younger sisters. The family would share the troubles of their community during the Panic of 1857, an economic depression that caused widespread unemployment, bank and business failures, and falling grain prices.

Another move found Thomas working as a farm laborer in Ohio County, Virginia, according to the 1860 census. Here Tom, his father, and now seven younger sisters lived in a rural farming area. His mother was not listed here or in later records. Did she die in childbirth? Of an infectious disease? Was her death accidental? However she died, the father-and-son wage earners in this family of nine shared a great responsibility. Great-grandpa must have learned the value of hard work, wise spending habits, and loyalty to family during these lean years.

With the inauguration of President-elect Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861, secession of the southern states had begun and a war between North and South was inevitable. The War of the Rebellion began on April 12, 1861. On August 11, 1862, Thomas Cox enlisted in the Union Army at Smithfield, Ohio, in Company B, 52nd Regiment of Ohio Volunteers. On October 1st, the regiment marched from Louisville to Perryville, Kentucky, where it was present at the battle of October 8, 1862, a victory for the Union.

Civil War Campground
Returning to Louisville along with his regiment, records show that Thomas was absent due to sickness in November and December and in hospital during January and February, 1863. He was Honorably Discharged from the army while hospitalized. The "Certificate of Disability for Discharge" reads, in part, "I have carefully examined the said Thomas Cox...and find him incapable of performing the duties of a soldier because of Physical Inability together with effusion of the abdomen". His career as a soldier was at an end.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas relocated to the newly established state of West Virginia. The IRS Tax Assessment Lists describe his occupations as "Peddler 2nd Class" and "Produce Broker". Nearby, his future father-in-law, William E Connelly, was a successful grocer. Perhaps these two worked together, and as a happy consequence, Thomas, and William's daughter Ida Viola, met, fell in love, and became engaged.
On October 28, 1868, Tom and Ida were married in the home of her parents in Wheeling, West Virginia. The marriage license lists his occupation as Farmer.

After a series of jobs including teamster, laborer, and confectioner, Great-Grandpa was admitted to the National Soldier's Home in Hampton, Virginia. He was 46 years old, and his twin sons Frank Ellwood and Fred were only 2 years old. It seems that his health had deteriorated steadily since the war, leading to the admitting diagnosis "disease of back, spine, and bowels". Seven years later, in 1890, a "Declaration for Invalid Pensions" was completed on behalf of Thomas wherein he is described as, "...wholly unable to earn a support by reason of Paralysis, being speechless, and almost wholly helpless..."

National Soldier's Home

Thomas Cox died on the 1st of April 1895 in the barracks of the last place he called home. The cause was "apoplexy with hemorrhage of the brain". Consistent with his status as Civil War veteran, he was buried at the Hampton National Cemetery. RIP, dear Grandpa.

Plot: Phoebus, Section D, 7081

Saturday, July 30, 2016

My Mayflower Connection

Richard Warren is my 10th great-grandfather. His claim to fame is having been a passenger on the storied ship Mayflower, as she sailed from the port at Plymouth, England, to present-day Cape Cod. He was of the London Merchant Adventurers group, rather than the Leiden, Holland religious Separatists group (known as the Pilgrims), and traveled alone, leaving wife Elizabeth and five daughters behind. The identity of his parents is unknown, but it is believed that he was born between 1578 & 1585, probably in Hertfordshire, England, where he was later married.

Elizabeth Walker (daughter of Augustine Walker) and Richard Warren were married on 10 April 1610 in Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, at St Leonard's Church. Little is known of his life prior to the sailing despite much research into the matter. The Warren's had five daughters: Mary in 1610, Anne in 1612, Sarah in 1614, Elizabeth in 1616, and Abigail in 1618. Elizabeth and the girls sailed to the New World to join Warren aboard the Anne in 1623. Two sons were subsequently born: Nathaniel in 1624, and Joseph in 1627.

Along with the Mayflower, the Speedwell was originally meant to transport the Pilgrims from Holland to Cape Cod via Plymouth. She began taking on water, repairs were made in England, and both ships set off. The Speedwell continued to leak, the stores and passengers were transferred to the Mayflower, Speedwell was left behind, and the Mayflower sailed the perilous Atlantic alone. She had 102 passengers and about 30 crew aboard along with a multitude of stores, provisions, furniture, weapons, and tools. The reconstruction of the ship's log, "The May-flower and her log: July 15, 1620-May 6, 1621, chiefly from original sources" (located online at: gives a detailed account of items brought aboard. The list is long and varied and includes a long-boat, one or more smaller boats, beer, whiskey, gin, goats, swine, poultry, sheep, rabbits, and trading goods. The Mayflower was a rather small ship (90 ft long, 26 ft wide, with a tonnage of 180) and was likely crowded, noisy, and uncomfortable during her 66 day voyage.

The Mayflower

The famous "Mayflower Compact", a promise between the settlers to function as a group for the good of all, was signed on November 21, 1620, aboard the ship at anchor in the harbor. In December, Warren was a member of the third scouting party to go ashore where the first encounter with hostile Indians took place.

The first winter at Plymouth Colony was brutal, and fully one-half of the passengers succumbed to disease. Warren received his share of acreage in the Division of Land in 1623, and the family shared in the Division of Cattle in 1627. All seven of the Warren children would live to adulthood, marry, and have large families. Today, there are estimated to be millions of Americans descended from Richard Warren.

Plymouth Plantation Living History Museum

Warren died in 1628. The record of his death is taken from Morton's 1669 book New England's Memorial, "This year [1628] died Mr Richard Warren, who was an [sic] useful instrument and during his life bore a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth". He is buried at Cole's Hill Burial Ground across from Plymouth Rock and overlooking Plymouth Bay.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Grandmother Grace

My paternal Grandmother's life story is a short one as she died at age 43 from a scourge of the times, tuberculosis. Grace Lillian Synar was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 8, 1878. Her parents were William Henry Synar and Lillian Ann Gallaher. Her mother, Lillian, also died of tuberculosis when Grace was two-years-old. The 1880 Census lists young Grace living with her grandfather John Gallaher, her aunt Tilly (Lillian's sister Matilda), Tilly's husband William Hamilton, and her father Henry Synar in Pittsburgh. (William often used his middle name Henry as a first name). Henry worked as a glass blower and William Hamilton was a clerk in oil works.

By 1900, the widower Henry and his young daughter were living with his sister Mary at 1906 S Sarah St in Pittsburgh. Grace lived here until her marriage to Frank E Cox in 1905. Her three sons would be born near Pittsburgh: John Gallaher in 1906, Fred Synar in 1908, and Robert Austin in 1910.

Cox Family 1919

Sarah Street House built in 1900
When the bacillus that caused TB was discovered in 1882 by Robert Koch, measures were gradually taken to stop its spread. Knowing that the disease could be "caught", the public became fearful of associating with tubercular patients. This was a hardship for patients as the slow progression of the disease meant that one could be well enough to receive visitors or go to town, yet still be contagious. Many sufferers likely remained at home, depending upon family and neighbors to supply their needs, rather than face uneasy strangers. Before antibiotics were discovered and mass-produced, the only treatment available was based on isolation, rest, and healthy food, The residential facilities known as sanitariums were big business, and were usually situated in a rural area providing a restful environment, the beauty of nature, fresh air, fresh food, and nursing care. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, the moderate weather and abundant sunshine of California led many TB patients living in colder climates to relocate.

In 1917, the family was living in Phoenix, Arizona, as recorded on Frank's WWI Draft Registration card. By 1920, they had settled in Pasadena, California, where Grace's condition deteriorated. Too ill to tend to her growing sons, so far from her childhood home and loved ones back east, it must have been an unhappy time for Grace, a great strain on her husband, and frightening and confusing for her children.

Mountain View Cemetery
Her suffering came to an end on September 17, 1921, ten years after her diagnosis was confirmed. Did she carry the same TB strain as her late mother? Did it remain latent until she married and had a family, only to strike when she was still a young woman? So many questions that will forever remain unanswered. Grace Synar Cox was buried near her son Fred at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California. I so wish I had know you, Grandma.

Death Certificate