Thursday, 5 August 2021

Leigh Hovland (1890-1903) 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2021 Week 33 - "The Chicago Iroquois Theater Tragedy"

from the funeral program of Leigh Nicea Hovland 3 January1904

When my third great grandfather Erik Anderson Elton immigrated to America from Norway in 1854, he was accompanied by his 24 year-old sister Sigrid Elton. 

Tragically, Erik died the following year at age 38 when he was hit by a falling tree. One might speculate that Erik's sister Sigrid would have offered support to Erik's widow Sarah Knutsdatter Holien and her two young daughters. 

Sigrid Elton would marry another Norwegian immigrant, Anders Lien, in 1857 and go on to have a family of 8 children with him. The oldest daughter in the Lien family was Anna born in 1860.

Anna Lien (1st cousin to my Dad's grandma Anna Elton)

When Anna was 21, she married another man of Norwegian heritage, John P. Hovland. 

Anna Lien and John P. Hovland
married 14 March 1881
Albert Lea, Minnesota

Anna and John had two daughters born in Albert Lea, Minnesota: Edna born in 1887 and Leigh in 1890.

Leigh (left) and Edna (right) about 1893
(Leigh and Edna were 2nd cousins to my grandfather John Bardahl')

Sometime before the 1900 U.S. census, the family moved from Albert Lea, Minnesota to Chicago, Illinois.  John was a successful businessman with a chain of clothing shops and a partnership in a silk importing business in Chicago. He was well able to provide his family with many of the fine things that life in Chicago could provide at the turn of the last century. 

One of those fine things was the wherewithal to attend live theater performances in the burgeoning theater district of Chicago. On 30 December 1903, with school out for Christmas vacation, the two Hovland daughters had tickets for the matinee performance of the popular musical comedy "Mr. Blue Beard" at the recently opened Iroquois Theater near the corner of Dearborn and Randolf Streets.

Advertisement from the Kansas City Times, 31 December 1903, page 4
The Iroquois was casting its net for audience members far and wide.

Location of Iroquois Theater Dearborn and Randolf (later the home of the Nederlander)

The elegant new theater was packed that afternoon with over 1700 people dressed in their holiday finery.  No doubt the teenagers Edna and Leigh Hovland were dressed in their nicest dresses and had been anticipating this outing to the theater in downtown Chicago. They were accompanied that afternoon by their 21 year-old cousin Clyde Thompson, a student at Wisconsin University. Clyde had been a holiday houseguest at the Hovlands home at 33 Humboldt Boulevard. He is sometimes referred to as Leigh's "fiance" and it is possible that marriage was their long-term goal, notwithstanding their close kinship and her young age which make this sound unlikely to our modern ears. 

According to a newspaper article from the following day, it seems there were 16 people attending from a two-block stretch of Humboldt Boulevard, including 13 year-old Josephine Pilat with her mother and younger sister of 34 Humboldt. It is not much of a stretch to assume the Hovland girls and their cousin were with neighborhood friends.  The majority of the audience members for this midweek matinee were, not surprisingly, women and children. The first act went just fine, but a few minutes into the second act, a spark from a  stage light caught on some of the stage material and soon engulfed the building in flames. An asbestos curtain that should have prevented the spread of the flames jammed uselessly.

Tragically, it seems that many corners had been cut in an all-out effort to have the theater completed in time to take advantage of the busy theater season. Bribes may have enabled bypassing crucial inspections and safety equipment. Far from being "absolutely fireproof" as advertised, the Iroquois Theater was actually a firetrap. Exit doors had been locked; those that worked opened inward such that the crush of people trying to escape made it impossible to get the doors open. Younger children were trampled. Fire escapes led nowhere. Some doors also led nowhere. No exit signs had been lit since it was thought they would distract the audience from the performance. Family members easily became separated from one another in the mayhem that ensued.  

The Chicago Tribune 31 December 1903

602 people died that afternoon, including 13 year-olds Leigh Hovland, her cousin Clyde Thompson and her neighbor Josephine Pilat. Leigh's older sister had managed to escape, as had Josephine's mother and younger sister.

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) · 31 Dec 1903, Thu · Page 5 

It took some time for all the bodies to be identified and returned to their families for burial. Although classified as "missing" the day after the fire, Leigh's obituary was printed just 3 days later. 

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 3 Jan 1904, Sun · Page 7

Leigh was buried at Mount Olive Cemetery which had been started by the Scandinavian-American community of Chicago in 1889. The cemetery contains a tower with a bell which is rung each time a funeral procession enters through the limestone arch at the entrance. Presumably it was rung for Leigh on the afternoon of Sunday 3 January 1904. A photograph of her headstone can be seen on this Find a Grave memorial page for her.

An excellent series of photographs from the time showing the elegant new theater before the fire and then the terrible aftermath can be found on a video at this link

Leigh Hovland was my second cousin twice removed. She didn't have the opportunity to grow up to have a family of her own so as to leave direct  descendants to remember her. (Her sister Edna did marry and have a family and lived to the age of 82.)

The Iroquois Theater fire of 1903 has the sad distinction of appearing as the 5th most deadly fire/explosion in American history. Surprisingly, it is not nearly so famous as the less deadly Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In the aftermath, a series of investigations pointed to many faults and rampant wrongdoing, from the Mayor on down, but no one was ever held accountable.

The legacy of the terrible tragedy that took Leigh's life along with that of her cousin and 600 other people is that safety measures are now the expected norm. New standards were established in Chicago and most other jurisdictions with respect to aisles, exits, lit exit signs, fire alarms and other equipment. Exit doors must open outward (with "panic bars" or "push bars") so that they can open if there is a crush of folks trying to escape a burning building.

Although I live a long way from Chicago, I have twice had the opportunity to attend live performances at theaters there, most recently "Hamilton" in 2019. Located just blocks from where the Iroquois Theater fire had taken the life of Leigh Hovland, our enjoyment of the performance was not marred by concerns for our safety.

The author and her husband attending "Hamilton" at the CIBC Theater 27 February 2019

Some Resources:

  • Beatty, Jill, whose father was Leigh's first cousin, for sharing many of the family photographs and memorabilia shown above.
  • Everett, Marshall; The Great Chicago Theater Disaster: The Complete Story Told by the Survivors; c. 1904 D.B. McCurdy, Publishers Union of America, 389 pp., available online at,%20The%20Complete%20Story%20Told%20by%20the%20Survivors,%20by%20Marshall%20Everett%201904.pdf 
  • Podcast: Stuff you Missed in History Class, "The Iroquois Theater Fire" episode of 8 December 2014 accessible here:
  • Uenuma, Francine; "The Iroquois Theater Disaster" article from the Smithsonian Magazine 12 June 2018 accessible here:

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Lawrence Wilkinson (c1620s-1692) (52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2021 #8) Theme: "Power"

Lawrence, one of my 9th great grandfathers, was born about 1620 in Lanchester, Durham, England. The Wilkinson family had been associated with Harpley House there for generations. They were staunch supporters of the throne, which support had garnered them large landholdings in the area.

All Saints Parish Church, Lanchester, England
Google Earth Street View Image

Lawrence (sometimes spelled Laurence or Lawrance) got caught up in the Siege of Newcastle in 1644 when the Scottish Covenanters, unhappy with the strictures put on their Protestant religion by King Charles 1,  joined forces with the Parliamentarians. This was part of an ongoing battle for power generally referred to as the English Civil Wars. True to his family's allegiances, Lawrence took up arms and joined the Royalist forces in defense of King Charles. He has been said to have served as a lieutenant and as a captain in the Royalist forces. Tragically finding himself on the losing side in this battle, Lawrence was taken captive but eventually freed. Like many other Royalists, Lawrence Wilkinson had his properties sequestered. Strong support for his King had equally powerful repercussions; it became obvious to Lawrence that he might be well-advised to take his leave of the country.

Lawrence arrived in Providence, Rhode Island in 1645. On the 19th of the 11th month of that year his name was added to the original civil compact agreed by the original founders. Providence was less than 10 years old at the time, having been established by Roger Williams in 1636 after being banished from Massachusetts for his religious beliefs. Rhode Island was known as a welcoming location for newcomers of many political and religious stripes. Although most of my other early immigrant ancestors were Puritans who were largely supportive of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil Wars, even Royalists like Lawrence Wilkinson found a welcoming home in Rhode Island. By signing the compact, he received a free grant of 25 acres of land.

Before long, he married Susannah Smith and settled down to raise his family in Providence. (It should be noted that there is some thought that their marriage and birth of eldest son Samuel had occurred in England.) 

Even the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean could not insulate Lawrence and other newcomers from the ongoing power struggles in England between King and Parliament. The original civil compact for Providence signed by Lawrence in 1645 had acknowledged the struggle by hedging its bets with the phrase ". . . and hereby do promise to yield active, or passive obedience to the authoritys (sic) of King and Parliament."  After the death of Oliver Cromwell and the return of King Charles II, the Providence records for 6 May 1673 include a remonstrance against the oath of allegiance required by the King of England.

Lawrence took part in the affairs of the community throughout his lifetime. Some examples can be found in the town records. On 27 January 1659 he was chosen one of the jury men and on 15 August of that year he was chosen Commissioner of the Court of Commissioners to be held at Portsmouth later that month. In 1667 he was chosen as one of the Commissioners or Deputies to the General Assembly. The 28 April 1673 minutes of the town meeting indicate that Lawrence Wilkinson was chosen to serve as Deputy to the General Assembly at Newport. He was obviously a leading figure in the early Providence community.

His name frequently arises in town documents recording the descriptions of various parcels of land acquired by him over the  years. It is interesting to note the descriptions refer to specific trees on the land as markers - walnut, pine, white oak, red oak and black oak - as well as topography including swamps and the Moshasuck River. Reference is also made to the "World's End Meadow" and scenery being "sacredly romantic". All in all, the records would indicate that Lawrence took up about 1000 acres of land in the Providence area. Having lost his family land in England by sequestration for his role during the power struggle there between King and Parliament, he more than made up for it in the new world.

Moshasuck River, Providence, R.I.
Lawrence had lands somewhere along its 8.9 mile length
Public Domain Image by Marcbela

 Some Resources: 

  • Wilkinson, Israel; Memoirs of the Wilkinson family in America : comprising genealogical and biographical sketches of Lawrance Wilkinson of Providence, R.I., Edward Wilkinson of New Milford, Conn., John Wilkinson of Attleborough, Mass., Daniel Wilkinson of Columbia Co., N.Y.; Jacksonville, Ill., Davis & Penniman, Printers, 1869.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Elin Persdotter (1739-1810) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 52) Theme: "Resolution"

For several years, the database for my Swedish 5X great grandmother has indicated that "I need to resolve conflicting birth and death dates and two sets of possible parents for Elin." This final story for 2020 seems like a good time to see if I can make any progress toward a resolution. And, if not, perhaps this is slated to become a resolution for further research in 2021.

Laxarby Church photograph 2018 by Vogler
Wikimedia Commons under creative commons license

The Swedish branch of my mother's family is on her paternal Anderson line, with immigrant ancestor Israel Anderson. Elin Persdotter was Israel's great grandmother. (Israel's story was the first one I wrote five years ago when I last did the "52 Ancestors" challenge, making it appropriate to bookend this year by ending with one of his Swedish ancestors.) 

Elin appears in the marriage record for 1 January 1765 showing Elin Persdotter of Germundebyn marrying Nils Enarsson of Prestegarden in Laxarby, Älvsborg, Sweden.

Laxarby, Älvsborg Marriage 1 January 1765

Nils moved from Prestegarden to Elin's family area at Germundebyn where records for their growing family are easily found. Birth/baptism records from the Laxarby church books can be found for the following children:

  1. Britta Nilsdotter b. 17 January 1766 (my 4X great grandmother)
  2. Olof Nilsson b. 16 January 1768
  3. Enar Nilsson b. 23 November 1770
  4. Pehr Nilsson b. 5 April 1774
  5. Ingrid Nilsdotter b. 11 March 1777
  6. Bryngel Nilsson b. 14 July 1779.

(As an aside, a census of Laxarby today would not yield a significant population; apparently fewer than 900 people now live in the area. At the time my Anderson ancestors lived there, Laxarby was part of Älvsborg, but in the late 1900s it became a part of Västra Götaland.)

Laxarby, Sweden location of Elin's family, Google Earth

Among the best sources of information for Swedish families are thHusförhörslängd (household examination records kept by the State Lutheran Church). These are essentially annual censuses of all family members. The Household Examination Records for Nils and Elin's family make it easy to follow them from year to year between 1774 and 1810. Nils and Elin disappear from the household examination records after 1810.

Household Examination Record for Nils and Elin's family 1774-1779

The record for the period 1795-1800 is of interest since it records that my 4X great grandmother Britta has left the family to marry and move to Korsbyn. 

Household Examination Record for Nils and Elin's family 1795-1800

The problem requiring resolution is that there are records for two different Elin Persdotters in Laxarby in the relevant time period. For a long time, the only record I had located was for Elin Persdotter born in December of 1741 to Per Egelsson and Christin Jonsdotter. (Most online family trees use this Elin with these parents for my family group.)

 Elin, daughter of Per Egelson and Christin Jonsdotter, born in Laxarby in 1741

Then, an indexed source pointed in another possible direction. There was an Elin born 24 March 1739 and baptized the following day at Laxarby to parents Per Olsson and Ingri Jonsdotter. However, the original church record is almost unreadable,

Birth/baptism record for Elin, daughter of Per Olsson and Ingrid Jonsdotter, 1739 Laxarby church records

Unfortunately, only one year (1757) of the Household Examination Records for the relevant Germundebyn farm is available for the entire time of Elin's youth.

1757 Household Examination Record for Germundebyn farm

Most likely this is Elin's family since it is on the right farm (Germundebyn in Laxarby Parish) and has the possible mother (Ingrid Jonsdotter) but it seems that Elin's father Per has probably died and the farm is now being run by a man named Bryngel Mathisson. One possible death record for Per (Pehr) Olsson has been located but I have a difficult time convincing myself that I can actually read his name for this 50 year-old who died at Germundebyn in 1748. 

Possible death record for Per Olsson 18 February 1748

Two brothers of Elin's also appear in the household record family group: Jon Persson b 1735 and Olaf Persson b1740. There is also a child named Jacob (could it be Bryngelsson?) born in 1749. Finding their birth records is definitely in order as part of this whole resolution process. 

Has Ingrid remarried to a man 19 years her junior or what is the explanation for this family group? Ingrid would have been 49 years old when this child was born, so this seems unlikely. Who was Bryngel and how does he connect to the family?  I'm  finding more things to muddy the waters - and more things requiring further research! 

Elin's birth year is consistently recorded in the household examination records as 1739, leading me to conclude that she was NOT the Elin born in 1741. These records continue through 1810, but for 1811, both Nils and Elin are no longer included in the family listing. Their death records occur on opposite pages in the church records, his in 1809 at age 70 and Elin's 6 May 1810, also at age 70. She was buried 20 May 1810 at Laxarby. 

1810 Death record for Elin Persdotter of Germundebyn

Once again there was a record of another Elin Persdotter (quite probably the one born in 1741) who died in 1812. Unfortunately, no marriage or household examination records have been located for this other Elin Persdotter. 

Death of an Elin Persdotter in 1812 at age 75

Given "my"  Elin's disappearance from the Household Examination Records for 1811, coupled with mention of the Germundebyn farm in her death record, it is most likely that she was the Elin who died in December of 1810. 

Have my issues been resolved? I believe it is most likely that my Elin Persdotter was the one born in 1739 to Per Olsson and Ingrid Jonsdotter and that she died in 1810.

More research will definitely be required for some of the other issues uncovered, but I think that belongs in my list of 2021 New Year's Resolutions. 

Some Resources:

  • Familysearch Research Wiki for Sweden, accessible online at

Friday, 11 December 2020

Marith Christophersdatter (c1768-1848) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 51) Theme: "Winter"

Some countries have a natural affinity with winter. Canada, where I live, is one of them. Norway, where my 3X great grandmother Marith lived, is another. 

This branch of the family lived up the west coast of Norway in Nordland. The area they came from included the area now called "Bardalssjoen" and is the source of our family's Bardahl surname.

The Bardahl family came from Nordland, Norway - Google Earth Image

Norway is often called the "Land of the Midnight Sun" because sometimes the sun shines there 24 hours a day. This occurs in the polar regions of earth in summer. The opposite of this "polar day" is the "polar night" when the sun does not appear above the horizon for a period of time in winter. The duration of the polar night depends on how far north one lives. This does not necessarily mean that everything is pitch black for weeks on end. In fact, there is a phenomenon known as the "blue hour" when the landscape appears a beautiful surreal blue.  This, and the northern lights that often appear in the northern arctic region can, at least in normal times, be a big tourist attraction. Although many would find the weeks without sunshine to be depressing, it is said that many Norwegians enjoy the quiet beauty of this special time of year. 

Polar night blue hour and snowfall over Øvervatnet lake in Fauske, Nordland
28 December 2016 photograph by Frankemann
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The Arctic Circle runs through northern Nordland but the Arctic Circle Center is located in Mo i Rana, not far from where Marith and her family lived. The polar night would have been a familiar feature of their lives in winter.

Map of Nordland showing location of Frankemann's blue hour photo, the Arctic Circle Center
 and Marith's family sites

Marith was born between 1766 and 1768 in Nordland, Norway. So far, no birth or baptism record has been located for her. That her father's first name was Christopher is clear, but beyond that we can only guess. Marith was married in winter and died in winter, but we don't know the season of her birth.

The first record of which we can be certain is that for the marriage between Lars Joensen Hellesvig and Marith Christophersdatter on 6 January 1793 in Alstahaug, Nordland. Lars would have been about 33 and Marith 25, fairly typical marrying ages in Norway at this time. 


Lars and Marith were the second couple listed for 1793 marriages in Alstahaug kirkebok

Four sons and two daughters were born to them between 1793 and 1807, including my 2X great grandfather John Christian Larsen. Interestingly, all of her children were born between the months of April and October, with not a single winter birth. (That would mean, however, that their children were conceived during the long Norwegian polar winter.) 

At the time of the 1801 Norwegian census, Lars was 41 and a farmer. Marith was listed as his wife, age 33. 

1801 census for Hellesvig farm, Alstahaug, Nordland, Norway

Living with them at the time of the census is widow Sara Andersdatter, age 67, who could be Marith's mother. There was a marriage between a Sara Andersdatter and Christopher Pedersen in Hemnes, Nordland, Norway in 1767; this couple could certainly be Marith's parents, but without finding her birth/baptism record, we cannot be certain. 

Marith's husband Lars lived to the age of 85, dying on the Hellesvig farm on 25 April 1845. Marith died there on 7 January 1848 at the age of 82. She wasn't buried until 23 April when the ground thawed in the spring. Several others were buried that same day. Although this was normal for the time and place, it nevertheless must have added another whole layer of anguish for Marith's family and the others who were forced to grieve a second time when the burial couldn't occur until after winter ended.

Not where Marith is buried! Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Painting by a contemporary of hers, Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1827): 
"Megalith Grave near Vordingborg in Winter" 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Robert Moulton, Salem Witch Trial Witness (1644-1731) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 50) Theme: "Witness to History"

Being a witness at one of the infamous Salem witch trials definitely qualifies my 7X great grandfather Robert Moulton as a witness to history. I had already written about him in 2016, but his story seems well worth revisiting in relation to this week's suggested theme.

Robert Moulton was my 7X great grandfather. His father was also Robert Moulton (1607-1665) and his grandfather likewise Robert Moulton (1587-1655). It was Robert's grandfather who had emigrated from Ormsby St. Michael, Norfolk, England in 1629, bringing with him his grown son Robert who was a Church of England minister. This older immigrant ancestor was a master shipbuilder who was said to have been the first well-equipped shipbuilder to arrive in New England, building the first vessels that were built in Salem and in Medford, near Boston. Son Robert attempted unsuccessfully to establish the English church in Salem, but this was rejected as not in accord with the prevailing Puritan beliefs in New England.  Both men were active in community affairs, politics and business matters. Clearly the family were upstanding and well-respected members of the community.

The Robert of our story was the first of my direct Moulton line born on American soil, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1644. He was the second child and oldest son of Robert and Abigail (Good) Moulton. On 17 July 1672, 28 year-old Robert married Mary Cooke and started a family of his own. By the time of the 1692 witch hysteria, they had a family of eight children.

Map of Salem Village 1692
Public Domain,

First, a bit of background. There were two towns associated with the "Salem" witch trials: Salem Town and a fast-growing farming area at its northern end called Salem Village (now called Danvers). The earliest events of 1692 started in Salem Village, which contained some 500 people at the time. There would have been another 1500 or so living in Salem Town. The Village had established its own church in 1672, the same year that Robert and Abigail were married. None of its earliest ministers were ordained, resulting in a good deal of instability. Late in 1689, the church finally obtained an ordained minister named Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had spent time in Barbados and brought to Salem with him a couple of Carib Indian servants; they would have had knowledge of voodoo practices and told tales of witchcraft to the Parris daughters. Things went well with Reverend Parris at the Salem Church at first, but because of his strict religious orthodoxy, dissent soon arose. The Village found itself in turmoil within a couple of years. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that the earliest witch accusations arose in Parris's own home. Starting in February of 1692 with three young girls who experienced fits, over the next few months some 200 people were accused of witchcraft, many were tried and twenty executed.

Closeup of southwest corner of map of Salem Village showing location
of Robert Moulton's home (#138, circled in turquoise)

Salem was certainly not the only place where people were executed as witches. In those days, people in many parts of Europe and North America believed in witchcraft. Many believed the Devil himself was here on Earth. When unusual events occurred,  in the absence of an accepted scientific explanation, a person could be accused of having used sorcery or being in league with Satan. The accused were most often those already sidelined in their societies - the eccentrics and misfits, the ugly, the mentally ill. Women were accused more often than men and spinsters and barren women were an easy target, especially if they were willful or outspoken. 

In Salem, however, several men and pillars of the community also found themselves among the accused; one of those accused was my well-respected 9X great granduncle, John Alden, Junior, son of 1620  Mayflower arrivals John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Fortunately, he managed to escape from prison and leave town safely. 

Another such pillar of the community was a 71 year-old wife, mother and grandmother named Rebecca (Towne) Nurse. Always a pious and well-respected woman, she was nevertheless accused of being a witch. The Nurse family had been in a number of acrimonious disputes with the neighboring Putnam family. On 23 March 1692, she was arrested on the basis of charges made against her by Edward and John Putnam. She protested her innocence and many in the community did come to her support, but several young girls (including Reverend Parris's daughter Betty and a young Ann Putnam) swooned with fits that they said were caused by Nurse tormenting them.

One of those who gave evidence on Nurse's behalf was my 7th great grandfather Robert Moulton. He testified that one of her young accusers named Susannah Sheldon had admitted to lying.

Testimony of Robert Moulton in the Trial of Rebecca Nurse

A transcription of his testimony is a bit difficult to understand but the general intent is clear:
 “the testimony of Robart Moulton sener who testifith and saith that I waching with Susannah sheldon sence she was afflicted I heard her say that the witches halled her Upone her bely through the yeard like a snacke and halled her over the stone walle & presontly I heard her Controdict her former: disCource and said that she Came over the stone wall her selfe and I heard her say that she Rid Upone apoole to boston and she said the divel Caryed the poole”
As with all the accused witches, she was not allowed a lawyer and had to defend herself. The examining magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne seemed sympathetic to her cause. Even the Governor of Massachusetts at one point issued a reprieve. Nonetheless, when the swooning fits of the young girls continued, Rebecca Nurse was ultimately convicted as a witch, excommunicated from the church and sentenced to death by hanging on 19 July 1692.

Rebecca Nurse in Chains
By Freeland A. Carter, artist - The Witch of Salem, or Credulity Run Mad, by John R. Musick.
New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893. p. 275. See [1],
Public Domain,

It would be several years before the Putnam family, the church and the government issued apologies and attempted to make reparation for the wrongful death of Rebecca Nurse. Although Robert Moulton's testimony had not changed her tragic fate, at least he had had the courage act as witness on the side of one of the innocents during this historic time.

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature website accessed 18 November 2020 at
  • History of the Salem Witch Trials accessed 18 November 2020  at
  • "The Salem Witch Trials" website accessed 18 November 2020 at
  • Essex County Court Archives, vol. 2, no. 128, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Judicial Archives, on deposit James Duncan Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Martha Grace Edwards (1865-1921) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 49) Theme: "Oops!"

By all accounts, my great grandaunt Martha Grace Edwards ("Grace") was a much-loved and highly respected member of her extended family. Still, her life contains one or two events that might garner this lovely lady an "oops!". I suppose, in fairness, most of us have had at least an oops! or two in our lives.

Grace Edwards in 1916

To begin at the beginning, it is anything but clear that her mother's husband was Grace's biological father.  Mother Barbara Hoover had married her second husband, Lewis Edwards, on 24 October 1861 in Henry County, Illinois. The American Civil War had already begun and, just a few months into their marriage, on 9 August 1862, Lewis enlisted as a private in Company C, 112 Illinois Infantry and was off to war. 

Serving with the army near Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Lewis contracted a severe cold and cough in early spring of 1863 and was sent to the camp hospital.  After this, he never returned to active duty.  He was sent home to Orion, Henry County, Illinois on a brief sick furlough in February of 1865.  Lewis was formally discharged from the military on 24 July 1865. According to a deposition of his brother-in-law Clark Bleakney, Lewis returned home in August of 1865 from military service, at which time he was suffering so severely from "disease of the lungs" that he "remained sick and suffering from said disease . . . up to the 18th day of February 1866 at which date he died and is buried in Orion cemetery."

No official birth records exist for the time of Grace's birth, and the date shows signs of revision in the family Bible. The revising may have occurred during the time that Grace's mother Barbara was applying for a Civil War orphan's pension on behalf of Martha (Grace) and her twin sister Mary (Minnie) Edwards, trying to establish that they were the legitimate children of deceased veteran Lewis Edwards. The girls were  born on 28 November in either 1865 or 1866, not in Orion, Henry County, Illinois where Lewis lived and died but at the home of Barbara's sister in Jasper County, Iowa. Either birth year makes for interesting speculation, given the tenuous state of Lewis Edwards' health and the timing of his furlough and release from the army which was followed shortly by his death. Oops? Maybe. 

Grace and her twin sister Minnie had an older half-brother Samuel Lester Hoover born 1855 from their mother's first marriage and would go on to have another half-brother Charles Francis Edwards (my great grandfather) born in 1869. After Lewis's death, Barbara and her children lived with her parents in Keokuk, Iowa where they can be found in the extended family in the 1870 U.S. census. Strangely, the twins show up as one individual in that census: M. M. age 4. (The census was taken as of 1 June 1870 and the stated age was to be the age at that date, which would put the twins' birth year at 1865.)

Grace listed as  "M" (for Martha) in the 1870 US census for Keokuk County, Iowa
This is the first record that can be found for Grace

Barbara married an older family friend named George Payton 18 August 1873 in What Cheer, Keokuk, Iowa. Their combined household can be found in Howard, Elk County, Kansas in the 1880 U.S. census. Here we find Grace listed as George's 14 year-old stepdaughter Martha. As in 1870, the census was dated as of 1 June and age was to be given as of that date, giving added credence to a birth year of 1865 for the twins. 

Grace listed as "Martha" at age 14 in the 1880 U.S. Census for Howard, Elk County, Kansas

More information about the extensive activities and business ventures of Grace's mother Barbara and step-father George Payton in Howard can be read in my story from earlier this year. It is clear that the family lived in town and all took an active part in the life of the community. Grace at this time is often known as "Gracie Payton".

Grace and Minnie celebrate their 15th birthdays - The Howard Courant 1 December 1881
(supports a birth year of 1866 for the twins) - apparently Gracie and her friend Minnie Momma paid a visit to the newspaper office, according to an item in the same issue:

By the time of the retroactive Civil War orphans' pension applications begun on their behalf  by their mother in March of 1890, both Minnie and Grace had new married names. Minnie is now Mary Simmers (sometimes given as Simmons) and Grace is Martha Lemon. 

Grace's married surname might foreshadow the biggest "oops!" of her life. 

The marriage record that has been uncovered for Gracie Edwards and John Fillmore Lemon shows that their marriage didn't occur until the following year - 5 January 1891 in Fredonia, Wilson, Kansas. By that time, they had had two children: Winfield Scott Lemon, born 29 July 1886 in Winfield, Kansas and Maud Lemon, born in December of 1887 in Independence, Kansas. 

John Fillmore Lemon was more than ten years Grace's senior. He had been married in Illinois in 1878 to a woman named Mary E. Barber. At least two sons (Albert and William) had been born to them. No record of a divorce has been located. Apparently he worked on the railroad, and this may explain how he was able to meet Grace who was living in Kansas.

John Fillmore Lemon in foreground

A health report appeared in the local paper for John F. Lemon in September of 1890, wherein he is referred to as the son-in-law of Henry Barber (presumably wife Mary Barber's father). 

Independence Daily Reporter, Independence, Kansas for 3 September 1890 in

Ill or not - and still married to Mary or not - John was definitely in a relationship with Grace. His surname was used in her 1 December 1890 Civil War minor's pension application. 

Portion of Grace's Civil War Orphan's Pension Application Dated 1 December 1890
(Signed by her as Mrs. Martha Lemon - the actual marriage occurred one month later)

Grace and her sister had immediately taken over their own application process after their mother Barbara's death just over a week earlier on 22 November 1890. What difficult times these must have been for the family! 

It would be informative if the 1890 U.S. census were available to show who was living where and with whom; presumably John and Grace would have been living in Kansas with their two young children. The Lemon family does show up living together in Pueblo, Colorado ten years later in the 1900 U.S. census:

John and Grace with children Winn and Maud in the 1900 U.S. Census, living in Pueblo, Colorado 
(the 2/2 beside Grace's name indicate that she has given birth to 2 children, both of whom are still alive and the 16 listed for both John and Grace indicate they had been married 16 years, when their official marriage record would indicate 9 years.)

A family photo from Colorado was provided by one of Winn's descendants.

Grace, John, Maud and Winn Lemon in Pueblo, Colorado

If Grace was in fact the proverbial "other woman", all did not remain wedded bliss between her and John. The 1908 newspaper headline could not resist reporting this Oops!:

The Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 4 August 1908 from

(Perhaps the statement that "there are no children" does not mean that they never had any, just that the two children were now adults. In fact both are now married and can be found with their spouses in the 1910 U.S. Census.)

By 1910, John Lemon is single and one of a long list of boarders living in Boulder, Colorado, working in a stone quarry. 

John Lemon in 1910 U.S. Census

This was apparently not the life John wanted for himself. After this, he seems to have ingratiated himself with his first wife Mary and is once again living with her and their two adult sons in Ohio by the time of the 1920 census.

John and Mary Lemon with sons in Ohio, 1920 U.S. Census

Grace seems to have escaped the Oops! factor thereafter. 

Immediately after her divorce from John Lemon, we find her getting married again on 12 August 1908 to Henry Bradshaw ("Brad"),  a man some 15 years her junior. (Like her sister Minnie and mother Barbara, she sometimes fudged her age a bit. All three often seemed to get away with claiming to be younger than their years, especially when in relationships with younger men.) That same year, they relocated to Portland, Oregon, where we find them in the 1920 U.S. census.

Henry and Grace Bradshaw in Portland, Oregon in the 1920 U.S. Census

Brad and Grace (center front) at the Cliff House, San Francisco in 1907

Brad and Grace, Portland, Oregon 1916

The couple seemed to enjoy their lives together until her untimely death in her mid-50s in Tacoma, Washington on 20 September 1921. 

Some Resources:

  • Edwards, Lewis C. (Pvt., Co. M, 112th Ill Vol. Inf.), Civil War widow's pension application no. 394,573, certificate no. 265.106 and minors' pension application no. 418,303, certificate no. 265.106 ; Case files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934, Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  • Lemon, Winfield Scott, Personal Memoirs "Compiled at the request of his grandson Dick," copy provided to the author by Richard Lemon.

Friday, 20 November 2020

Elizabeth Alden (1678-1705) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 48) Theme: "Gratitude"

 With about one out of every eight women dying of complications of childbirth in early New England, it comes as no surprise to find them among our early ancestors. Elizabeth Alden, my 8X great grandmother, was one of these women. Those of us who descend through the child she died giving birth to owe this woman (and all those like her) a great deal of gratitude.

In the days prior to effective birth control and medicines, many women gave birth to a baby every two years and often succumbed to infection and a variety of complications of childbirth. It isn't surprising that many colonial women regarded pregnancy with dread. Their letters from the time indicate their awareness of the danger that they were facing. Early New England poet Anne Bradstreet expressed the fear well in her poem entitled "Before the Birth of One of Her Children" in which she anticipates her husband's remarriage after her death:

Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms.
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved'st me,
These O protect from step-dame's injury.

Elizabeth Alden was born in 1678 in Bridgewater, Plymouth Colony to Joseph Alden and Mary Simmons. She was the granddaughter of  1620 Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins on her paternal side and of 1621 Fortune passenger Moses Simmons on her maternal side.

When she was still in her teens, on 12 December 1693 she was married by Justice of the Peace Josiah Edson to Benjamin Snow (a grandson of Peter Browne, another Mayflower passenger). Benjamin was a farmer in the Bridgewater area. Then started the regular arrival of babies and the inherent danger that entailed:

  1. Rebecca Snow born 7 November 1694
  2. Benjamin Snow born 23 June 1696
  3. Solomon Snow born 6 April 1698
  4. Ebenezer Snow born 29 March 1701
  5. Elizabeth Snow born 5 May 1705 (my 7X great grandmother)

(Based on the usual pattern, one might suspect a miscarriage or stillbirth to have occurred in about 1703, but no record has been found.) 

Elizabeth did not recover after the birth of her daughter Elizabeth, dying three days later on 8 May 1705 of complications of childbirth. She wasn't yet 30 years old. Her burial location is unknown but would be somewhere in the Bridgewater area. 

Scotland Cemetery, Bridgewater MA photo 1999 - other family members buried here
 but no record for Elizabeth Alden Snow

With five young children including a newborn baby, it isn't surprising to see widower Benjamin remarrying in short order. On 25 October of that same year, he married the widow Sarah (Allen) Cary who added some five children of her own to the household. One might hope that she treated her stepchildren well and not in the way poet Anne Bradstreet had feared in her poem. 

Elizabeth and her namesake daughter never got to know each other at all. Young Elizabeth Snow grew up to marry Joseph Carver when she was 20, dying at the age of 50 after successfully giving birth to 8 children between 1727 and 1744. Our branch of the family descends from her first-born son, Joseph Carver junior. One might assume that this Elizabeth faced each impending birth with understandable concern, always aware that her own birth had resulted in her mother's death. 

Elizabeth Snow's tombstone in the Scotland Cemetery near Bridgewater, MA, is in a lovely country setting. It reads as follows: "Here lies buried Mrs. Elizabeth Carver, y wife of Mr. Joseph Carver, who died July 6th, 1755, in y 51st year of her age."

Bridgewater 1755  tombstone for Elizabeth Alden's daughter Elizabeth (Snow) Carver
photo taken 1999, Scotland Cemetery, Bridgewater, MA

The sacrifice made by Elizabeth Alden in giving birth to her daughter Elizabeth Snow enabled the very existence of a whole line of descendants. Thank you so much, Elizabeth. Remembering you is the only way we can really express our gratitude for your life. 

Some Resources:

  • Bradstreet, Anne, Before the Birth of One of her Children, accessed online 09 November 2020 at
  • Childbirth in Early America, Digital History Topic ID-70, 2019,  accessed online 09 November 2020 at
  • Mitchell, Nahum, History of the Early Settlement of Bridgewater, in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, including an extensive Family Register (Boston, 1840; rep. Bridgewater, Mass., 1897) accessed online at Internet Archive 09 November 2020 at