Saturday, May 30, 2015

Monroe Augustus Potwin: Mathematics Professor and House Painter (52 Ancestors #18)

Monroe Augustus Potwin was an interesting man. Born Aug 28, 1837 in Ellington, NY, he was the youngest living child born to Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin A. Potwine. (Yes, the name was spelled with an 'e', not sure why it was dropped by Monroe's generation.) There were 12 children born to the couple, three died at birth.

Dr. Potwine died when Monroe was just 14 years old. When the Civil War broke out Monroe was left to care for the family home and his mother and sisters while his three older brothers went off to fight.

Monroe must have had a fine education as he was a Professor of Mathematics and Latin at the Ellington Academy in Ellington NY, where he met his future wife, one of his students Ella Augusta Burt. The couple was married on New Years Day 1866. Monroe was 28 and Ella a mere 15.

The couple remained in New York for three more years, then headed West, to Adams Co, Iowa with two small children in tow. Their first born daughter died along the way.

Settling in Corning, Monroe took up the trade of "House Decorating", or house painter. He was also one of the first teachers at the Rawson School and a charter member of the local Presbyterian Church, the organization of which was made in his home. Monroe was superintendent of sunday school for the church for many years. During the course of his life he remained heavily involved with his church community, sitting on the board of directors, leading the choir, teaching Sunday School. It was said he had an excellent singing voice.

Three more children were born to the couple. In 1885 their first born son died by drowning, he was 12 years old.

When Monroe's wife Ella died in 1902 after a long bout with cancer it was said "her loss was a very severe blow to Mr. Potwin". He subsequently went about  making a home for himself and his young son Cyrus, 10, and threw himself into his house painting business.

Later, Monroe took his youngest son Cyrus under his wing and the pair formed Messrs. Potwin and Son - a much sought after house painting team. The outfit was so highly regarded that a 1914 article in a Corning newspaper quoting: "A fine example is being set in the community by H. F. Fleming, who has just had his house painted by Potwin and Son. Someone is to be congratulated on having chosen a very tasteful color scheme, and the house is now even more attractive than ever. When one can paint in a community for 45 years, it certainly looks as though his work were appreciated."

Monroe died August 25, 1917 and was buried along side his wife in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Corning. At his funeral the officiating minister spoke advisedly when he said that the memory of such a life was the most valuable heritage the father could leave to his children. Mr. Potwin had the respect and esteem of the people for his exemplary life.


Note: Monroe's obituary was erroneously printed with his middle name first and has thereby caused myriad mistaken identities around the web in many public family trees. His name as listed here is correct. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Priscilla Bickford Ashby Twining: Frontier Preacher's Wife and Nonagenarian (52 Ancestors #17)

Priscilla Bickford Ashby Twining,  "Prissy", my third great grandmother, was born July 18, 1817. It is said that her father, Jesse Ashby, owned a plantation in the Cheat River area of what is now Preston County, West Virginia. Priscilla was the third of six children.

When Priscilla was 17 her family removed to Perry County, Ohio where her father rented a farm for several years. Dissatisfied with the country, in 1839 the family again packed up all their belongings and headed West to the newly incorporated Iowa Territory.

Conestoga or Pennsylvania Wagon 
It is told that in October of 1839 the family was loaded into an old Pennsylvania wagon with a four horse team along with ten milch cows for a 40 day journey through the wilderness. Priscilla was 22 at the time, her youngest brother was merely 4. Upon arrival in what is now Washington County the family overwintered in an old log cabin. There were but a few settlers squatting on the prairies of the new Territory when the Ashby's arrived.

Memories written by Priscilla's granddaughter include tales of the family fording the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa.  Priscilla and her father traveling to Baltimore, Ohio to stock up on provisions such as flour, salt, etc. And Priscilla's recollection of looking out over the prairie as they crossed the Mississippi, seeing the tall grass meadow swaying in the breeze with orange colored flowers and wild roses, exclaiming "this must be the promised land".

The following spring Priscilla's father Jesse purchased 320 acres of newly acquired Government Land and proceeded to build a "fine farm".

Life in their new home was extremely difficult. Not only did they have to build virtually everything they needed themselves, they had to figure out food sources, fuel sources, medicinal sources. They were pioneers, others had not gone before them. The Native Americans were hostile, having just lost the Black Hawk War and neighbors were few and far between. [A really good Iowa History article can be found here.] 

In the 1840's the Methodist church began sending out circuit riders to travel through the settled portion of the state. It was one of those itinerant ministers, the Rev. E. W. Twining, that rode into town and won Priscilla's heart. Rev. Twining was a new widower with 6 very young children to care for. Priscilla had lots of experience caring for her younger siblings. It was a good fit.

On August 28, 1849, at the age of 32, Priscilla married Edward Wolcott Twining and began her life as a preacher's wife, and mother of 6!! I imagine her family was quite pleased that their spinster daughter finally found a husband!

In Iowa in the 1840's and 50's there was quite a lot of danger and disease. Scarlet Fever and Malaria were common killers, as were the frequent prairie fires that swept across the plains. Rev. Twining's first wife died, presumably of a fatal illness but it could also have been from childbirth, another frequent killer.

First Log Cabin at Fort Des Moines
The new family moved to Des Moines, Iowa soon after their marriage. Rev. Twining was assigned to minister to the people living around  Fort Des Moines, situated at the fork of the Mississippi and the Des Moines Rivers.  Priscilla recalled to her granddaughter the sight of soldiers stationed around the fort to protect the inhabitants from Indian attacks. It was here that Priscilla witnessed a great War Dance participated in by about 500 Indians on the "commons" where the Polk County Courthouse now stands. Could this have been a precursor to the Dakota Uprising?

One son was born to the couple, Jesse Twining, from whom I am descended. Twenty two days after Jesse's birth Priscilla's mother lost her life. She had been ill since the family moved to Ohio, it was the hope that in moving farther West she would regain her health. It was not to be so.

For the next twenty years the family moved around Iowa, as was the life of an itinerant preacher, but returned several times to Des Moines for extended periods.

In 1876, when advanced age made it necessary for Rev. Twining to retire from active duties in the ministry, the Twining's moved to the "City", Corning, Iowa, where they made their home with their son Jesse.

The couple enjoyed twenty more years together in their "retirement" age, helping their son Jesse and daughter in law Flora rear their four children. They were active members of the community and well liked by all.

In 1897 Priscilla lost her husband, he was 82.

Corning Iowa c1900
Sometime after 1900 the household welcomed another resident. Flora Twining's father, the Rev. Father Rowley. Several newspaper articles were written at the time about the unusual coincidence of the the two old folks, they shared the same birthday. Priscilla was one year Father Rowley's senior and for several years the local paper did a birthday story on the two on the anniversary of their birth.

Priscilla left this world on September 2, 1911 at the age of 94. Her obituary called her "one of those delightful characters to know and to love, she made many friends in Corning during her long residence here".

Priscilla is buried next to her husband in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Corning Iowa.




Monday, May 18, 2015

Ancestry Dot Com Made Me A Lazy Genealogist

It's true. I am a bit ashamed to admit it. Lazy. Not that I didn't know how to research outside of Ancestry, they just make it so darned easy to search "one and done". I'm a bit embarrassed that I fell into that trap, but now I'm coming clean.

When I was a newbie Ancestry was a BSO that, in my uneducated world was the "Great and Powerful Oz". EVERYTHING I needed was there, and oh-so-easy to access. Who needs records and proof when you have all these amazing family trees! Copy, click, done. Solved all my grandmother's Brick Walls in a matter of hours. Holla and High Five!

(I know many of you are laughing right about now. Slapping your thigh and saying "yeah, me too, been there, done that, got the mess to prove it")

I really cut my genealogical teeth when I tackled my paternal line. A great uncle had done a bit of
research, but for the most part I was sailing into uncharted territory. Ancestry was no help. Oh sure, there were census records, an occasional military record - but thankfully (really, the Genealogy Gods were working overtime on this one) not one single family tree! Not one! Alrighty then.

I dug in and got to work. I read over all the notes my dad had gathered over the years about his ancestors and plugged what I knew into a new tree. On Ancestry. I still like their ease-of-use style, for me it works. I utilized Family Search, I joined Yahoo Groups (this was pre-Facebook, btw), I used all the free and helpful little websites that I could find. I emailed genealogical societies, I wrote letters to cemeteries, I stalked living people with the surnames I was researching in the locations I was researching. I went "old school". And it worked! All my research was by my own hand. All the information I had obtained I could source. I was feeling mighty good.

High on my success with my paternal line, I ambitiously decided to revisit my maternal side.

Oh dear Lord. My mind was boggled. I saw the mess I had created with my clickophile ways and I wept. Overwhelmed, I walked away.

For several more years I dug deeper on my paternal line and just put the mess of my maternal line on the back burner for "someday".

Enter Thomas MacEntee and his Great Genealogy Do Over of 2015. "Someday" had arrived.

Never one to back away once the gauntlet has been thrown, I buckled in for the toughest genealogy ride of my life. And because one can not have too many challenges in their life at once, I also committed to the 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks writing challenge.

Now, getting back to the point of this post.

January 1, 2015. I began a mass execution of all the "ancestors" I had added to my grandmother's solid research, leaving just her work and the work I or my cousin had done that was provable. (Don't gasp - I did save a complete copy of the whole mess prior to the reaping "just in case".) I targeted my 52 ancestors writings on some of my grandmother's brick walls. And I let my Ancestry subscription expire. (I know, rogue move, now I am at the mercy of my own wits!)

At first I was frightened. And angry at Ancestry for being so expensive and having "all the records", until I gave myself a good talking to. Again thanks to Thomas MacEntee and the Do Over, I had a really nice tool kit of resources. I had many Facebook groups that I could post queries to, and I had the knowledge I had acquired from my research on my paternal side. I can DO this! The few resources/hints that popped up on my Ancestry tree (that are now hidden behind a pay wall) I am able to access merely by going to my public library. And I can even send the records home via email to be downloaded in their full glory! But that's not the lesson here.

IF I had still had a subscription to Ancestry this week while I was researching my 2nd great grandmother I may have stopped there. My grandmother had written a small bio on her that may well have been enough for me to write my blog post. Her parents were brick walls for my grandmother and there were really no record hints on Ancestry that were even correct. I had long ago turned off hints from other trees, but even looking at those showed a confusing mix of possibilities.

I went to Google and I posted on Facebook the two things I wanted clarification on prior to publishing my post and hit the motherload! I got just enough possible leads and confirmation that I was on the right track, to prompt me to dig deep into my Tool Kit and search, search, search. Not only did I get my answers, I got eight more generations of my family and busted one of my grandmother's brick walls! Church Lady dance ensued in the ol' Genealogy Cave!

And a humbled genealogist was reminded that there are no shortcuts. That good genealogy is "old school" genealogy. That this former member of the Look It Up Club almost failed to live by the motto "we never guess we look it up", or in this case quit looking if it's not on Ancestry.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ella Augusta Burt Potwin: A Well Educated Woman (52 Ancestors #16)

Ella Augusta Burt had an interesting life. Ella was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 10, 1850. She was the second child and first daughter born to Hermes and Jane Burt. Hermes was a wool merchant, family lore says he owned woolen mills in the Cleveland area. That rabbit trail however, will be a story for another day. Today we are looking at Ella's life.

In 1862 when Ella was just 12 years old, her father enlisted in the army to fight for the Union in the Civil War. In December of that same year he died of an illness contracted on the battlefield.

Jane Burt, Ella's mother, received a widow's pension and moved her young family to Ellington, New York. In 1865 Ella, her mother and her siblings are found living in a wood frame house owned by Jane Burt.

Ella attended the Ellington Academy and studied art, literature and music. It was there she met her future husband, her mathematics professor, Monroe Augustus Potwin, thirteen years her senior. The couple married on New Year's Day 1866. Ella was just 15!

Ella and Monroe had their first child, a daughter, on August 1, 1867. Their second child, another daughter, was born in Feb of 1869. Shortly after the birth of their second child the couple decided to head West. They set their sights on Des Moines, Iowa.

During the journey in the hot summer month of July, Ella's first born died en route to their new home. She was buried in Ottumwa, Iowa.

At some point on the journey the couple changed their plans and ended up settling in Corning, Iowa where they purchased a "big white house on a hill" which became their home for almost a third of a century.

I do not know what faith Monroe and Ella grew up with, but upon arrival in Corning they joined the Presbyterian church. The couple became very active in church affairs, teaching Sunday school and doing missionary work. Ella sang in the choir and was a charter member of the Women's Club.

The Iowa years were mostly good for Ella. She had three more children, all sons. Her husband took up house "decorating", he was a house painter who was in high demand for his exceptional work.

1n 1885 Ella lost another child, her first son, drowned at the age of twelve.

Shortly after the birth of her final child in 1892 Ella began to feel run down, tired, ill. Her daughter, a professional musician living in New York City, came home to care for her.

Ella was diagnosed with cancer. She traveled to Chicago for an operation in the fall of 1901. It was not a success.

Ella died March 26, 1902. She was just 51 years old.

Ella Augusta Burt Potwin was buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery alongside her son.

Her husband would follow 16 years later.


footnote: in researching this ancestor I again referred to my grandmother's extensive body of genealogical work. Ella's parents were brick walls for her. Thanks to modern technology, online records, the Google empire and Facebook, I was able to bust her brick wall in a matter of hours, and had taken the family back 8 more generations ...... all without the use of Ancestry.com. A very good weekend of ancestor archaeology!

Grandma would be so excited ......



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nathan Bass: More Questions Than Answers (52 Ancestors #15)

I must confess. I really have a hard time writing about an ancestor I know so little about. It's not for lack of trying, but Nathan Bass is one tough nut! I much prefer to have enough information to paint a picture of a life, to answer a few questions, to lay down some facts. Such is not the case here. This story will have more questions than answers. But it is a starting point. And a place to publicly question a lot of the misinformation floating around on the internet.  For my own piece of mind at any rate.

Nathan Bass is my 4th great grandfather. From the research my grandmother, the Genealogy Queen, did on the man I know he was born in Virginia on November 4, 1775. His parents have been unproved to date although there are lots of theories out there on the public trees of the world wide web. I prefer to stick to the facts and the fact here is his parentage has not yet been proved.

Nathan moved to Green County, Kentucky sometime prior to 1796, where he married Ruhama Price on Christmas Day of that year. The couple had 11 children according to my grandmother's research. All born in Kentucky.

The 1800 Kentucky Tax Lists show a Nathan Bass in Green County.

Nathan is listed on the 1810 and 1820 Federal census residing in Barren County, Kentucky. There were two land grants issued to Nathan for parcels of land in Barren; 134 acres in 1806 and 100 acres in 1816. Nathan and Ruhama's first four children were married in Kentucky.

The 1830 and 1840 Federal census' record that Nathan and Ruhama had moved to Flat Rock,  Bartholomew County, Indiana, where five more of the couple's children were married between 1830 and 1845.  Nathan purchased two adjacent 80 acre parcels in Bartholomew Co through the U.S. General Land Office in 1821.

Nathan died September 7, 1849. He is buried in the Salem Predestinarian Baptist Church Cemetery in Walton, Boone Co, Kentucky according to Find A Grave. (His wife, interestingly, is buried in Flat Rock Baptist Cemetery in Flat Rock, Bartholomew Co, Indiana)

These are the facts, stark as they may be. For some reason it is being published on public family trees all around the web that Nathan's middle name is Woodford. Nowhere have I found this legitimately documented. The one and only place I have found an indication of a middle name is on the gravestone. It is inscribed "Nathan R. Bass".

Now for the questions:

  • Where did "Woodford" come from?
  • There are several theories as to Nathan's parents, mostly on the same trees that show him as Nathan Woodford. Again, these are all public trees with no legitimate source citations. Who are Nathan's parents?
  • I wonder whether Nathan's father was involved in the American Revolution. There are several Bass's from Virginia listed as Patriots with the DAR, but none indicate this particular Nathan as a son. Was his father involved in the Revolutionary War?
  • I also wonder if Nathan was perhaps involved in the War of 1812. I have found nothing to support this yet. Was he?
  • Why did Nathan move from Virginia to Kentucky? Why did Nathan move from Kentucky to Indiana? Why is Nathan buried in Kentucky, and not with his wife in Indiana?
More questions than answers ......

footnote: in researching all the places Nathan had lived and realizing that Kentucky was part of the Virginia Territory until 1792 my curiosity was piqued. There will be more to this story .....

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rhoda Ann Vredenburg Rowley: Following In Her Mother's Footsteps (52 Ancestors #14)

Rhoda Ann Vredenburg was born March 4, 1818 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Her father was Reverend Hackaliah Vredenburg, her mother Sarah Kniffen. She was the second daughter born to the couple, and one of nine children. Rhoda's father was a circuit rider for the Methodist ministry and was often gone for long stretches of time. Her childhood in the wilderness of Indiana was one of hardship, scarcity and lack.

In September 1840 Rhoda married Reverend Rossiter Clark Rowley. Rossiter was a fresh young Methodist circuit rider from Ohio who had, sometime after 1838, been assigned to preach in Putnam County, Indiana.

The newly married couple made their home in Greencastle, Indiana "for a season", which based on the birth of their first two children was at least 5 years. It is recorded that Reverend Rowley was called to missionary work in Illinois, and their youngest child was born in Peoria in 1857.

I can only imagine the life Rhoda must have had up to this point. Growing up in the desolate wilderness of a brand new State, being cold and hungry for much of her young life. She was a devout Christian which must have been the appeal to marry a man just like her "dear old dad". She learned at the heels of her mother how to be a preacher's wife, so I imagine the role came naturally to her when she began her own married life. The big city of Peoria, Illinois must have, at first, seemed strange and frightening.

Rhoda and Rossiter had five children in all, but research to date has only uncovered three named children. The assumption is that two children died in childbirth or early infancy.

By 1853 Rev. and Mrs. Rowley had acquired 20 acres of land a mile outside of Peoria and had built a "neat little cottage".  There is an account of the virgin land being plowed by a team of oxen and a considerable orchard being planted. Rhoda must have been very happy at this seemingly idyllic life after so much hardship in her youth.

Sometime around 1860 Rhoda's husband transferred his membership to the Presbyterian Church and was performing missionary work once again. The family is found in Galesburg, Illinois until the 1870's.

In 1876 the family uproots again. This time to Adams County Iowa. Rev. Rowley was in charge of organizing the Presbyterian churches in Brooks and Nodaway, Iowa.

Nothing is written of Rhoda's life, save for her obituary, so I must tell her story through the documentation of her husband. In Rhoda's later years she was an invalid. Often during her years of suffering physicians despaired, as did her friends. It is recorded that Rhoda bore her suffering with Christian fortitude and uncomplainingly.

Rhoda died in her home on December 10, 1890. She was 72 years old. Her last days were spent pain free and she died as if falling asleep. Her last words were "come Jesus, come".


footnote: all of the accounts recorded her were the collected writings of my grandmother during her genealogical research work - all credit goes to Elizabeth Twining Potwin Thomas.