Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Sylvester Shaw


From the November 28, 1875 Cincinnati Daily Enquirer:

HAPPY SYLVESTER SHAW, of Russellville, Brown County, Ohio! On Tuesday he celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday in company with his twenty-one children. After dinner he took them out to the mud road in front of the house, and the old man left them all in a scrub race of a hundred yards. The ole man then showed his wondering offspring what boys could do when he was young. He jumped a nine-rail fence without touching his hands, climbed a branch of the apple tree nineteen times, climbed to the top of the well-pole hand over hand, threw a bull calf over the house, and ripped the back seam of his pants in the effort, and told the old woman "if she didn't fix 'em afore mornin' he'd knock the socks off of her!" Hale old SYLVESTER SHAW! Long live the oldest inhabitant!

What a man!  This incredible specimen of manhood was my fourth great-grandfather.  Sylvester Shaw was born November 19, 1800 in Rensellaer County, New York.  In the early 1800s, Sylvester's parents Russell and Johanna Reynolds Shaw moved their family to what would later become Brown County, Ohio.  There, Russell Shaw established the town of Russellville.
Sylvester married my fourth great-grandmother Elizabeth Hatfield on November 29, 1821 in Brown County.  Their first child was born and died in 1822.  My third great-grandmother, Elmina Shaw Dunn, was born in 1823 and was their first child to survive to adulthood.  Sylvester and Elizabeth had a total of ten children.  Elizabeth died August 22, 1851.
Sylvester married Sarah Jane Wire on June 24, 1852 in Spencer County, Indiana.  I don't know how they met.  Did Sylvester have business in Spencer County?  Was she a mail order bride?  Anyway, they got hitched and Sarah Jane got a house full of kids.  Sylvester's passion obviously didn't subside with his second wife.  He and Sarah Jane had eleven children.  Sylvester had his first great-grandchild before his youngest child was born in 1868! 
Sylvester was a man of many interests.  Early in his life, he made his living as a carpenter.  He was also a farmer, with an apple orchard, cornfield, cows, pigs, and sheep.   He was known as a veterinarian and developed a "throwing harness," so horses could be thrown without injury to the horse. 
So, I wonder what the real story was with his 75th birthday celebration?  Although he had 21 children, a few had died and others had moved away, so he didn't spend his birthday with all 21 children.  I wonder who counted how many times he climbed the apple tree.  I think it would have become a little tedious after about the second time he had done it.  Plus, I would probably be feeling a little downhearted after losing to him in the 100 yard dash. 
I'm most curious about Sylvester's hurling the calf over the house.  I have heard of throwing cow chips, but not calves.  How would one go about doing that - grab the calf's legs and then do sort of a modified hammer throw?  Obviously, his concern with the wellbeing of horses didn't extend to his livestock. 
Even though Sarah Jane was more than 20 years younger than Sylvester, she was the "old woman" whose socks Sylvester planned to knock off if she didn't mend his busted seam by morning.  Ultimately, Sarah Jane's body (and, no doubt, patience) wore out and she died on October 11, 1879.

Sylvester, however, still had some life in him, not to mention a house of teenagers.  He married Mariah Sowers on October 6, 1881.  I don't know much about Mariah, except that she was a "hired girl."  Their marriage record refers to her as "Mrs. Mariah Sowers," so she must have been married before.  As far as I know, Sylvester and Mariah had no children, but given Sylvester's history, I'm not making any assumptions.

Sylvester Shaw died February 27, 1884 and the bovines of Brown County all breathed a little easier.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Clearing the Air


I’ll always remember the day I stood in the Wardlow Cemetery, looking at my great-grandfather Hite Ballein’s grave and telling my parents that if I would ever do any family history research, I would like to research the Ballein family.  At that time, I was most interested in the Ballein family for a couple of reasons.  First, I bear a resemblance to my grandmother, Jennie Esther Ballein, who died when I was a toddler and whom I don’t remember.  Second, I was intrigued with the unusual Ballein surname, as well as the name Hite. 
Of course, I did begin researching my family history, starting with my paternal grandmother’s branch of the family, which includes the Balleins.  I then branched out to the other side of my dad’s family and later to my mom’s family also.  Along the way I have met a lot of distant relatives with whom I have shared information and am always excited when I meet a “new” relative.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had much success with the family that inspired me to start this journey, the Balleins.   Although I have corresponded with a couple of descendants of the siblings of my great-grandfather Hite, I have struck out with the descendants of Hite’s children, my grandmother’s siblings.  I have tried to write to a couple of my dad’s cousins with no response.  There have been other situations when I have made contact with Ballein relatives who initially seemed quite interested in sharing information, but from whom I never heard again.  I couldn’t help but wonder why this happens, when most people I contact or who contact me are happy to share information.
I know there are a lot of reasons they might not have responded.  They might not trust me, be interested in their family history, or have any information to share.  Maybe they didn’t have time to respond, had difficulies in their lives, or didn’t want to go to any trouble for someone they didn’t know. 

I suspect, though, that it could be related to events following the death of my grand uncle Oscar Ballein.  I won’t go into any details - I don’t know most of the details.  However, there is one thing I can state with no hesitation or doubt.  Neither my father Russell Lee Davis nor I had anything to do with what transpired.
My dad spoke kindly of his mother’s family, his grandparents, aunt and uncles, and cousins.  Like all families, this family has a story needs to be preserved and shared.   There is so much more I need to know.  I would also love to have at least one photograph of Hite Ballein – I suspect there has to be one somewhere.  I hope that someday a Ballein family member will find this post and contact me through the Post a Comment section on this blog so we can share information. 

I feel that those of us in possession of family photographs, documents, and bibles are not owners of these items, but only caretakers.   I look forward to meeting a lot more distant relatives in the future and sharing photos, information, and family stories with them.  And maybe, just maybe, one of them will be a Ballein. 
I would like to end by stating that the purpose of this post is not to complain about, blame, or embarass anyone.  My intention is simply to reach out to these family members and clear the air in the event there has been some misunderstanding in the past.  If any family members are uncomfortable about this post, please contact me through the Post a Comment section and I will remove it.  Your comment will not be visible to the public.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's in a Name?


My recent posts have been a little depressing with tales of hardship and tragic death.   This week, I would like to take on a lighter subject – the interesting names of some of the people in my family tree.  Now, I realize that some of these names weren’t too unusual in the era in which they were bestowed upon my family members, but they sound a little strange now.
·         ELIHU EMBREE                                  Elihu Embree was the grandson of my fifth great-grandfather Moses Embree and nephew of my fourth great-grandmother Rebekah Embree Hockett (Rebekah – Prudence Hockett Lamb – Nathan Lamb – Mary Lamb Donaldson – Eddie Earl Donaldson – my mom – me).  Elihu was born into the Quaker Embree family on November 8, 1782, the son of Thomas and Esther Coulson Embree.  If you wish to research Elihu, you will have little trouble finding information, since he holds the distinction of publishing the first abolitionist newspaper in the United States, the Manumission Intelligencer.  Elihu died at the age of 38 on December 4, 1820.

·         PLEASANT LEROY HIMES               Roy Himes was my grandmother Mary Jane Dudley Donaldson’s cousin, born to Marietta Dudley and Jeremiah Himes on December 1, 1888 in Lynchburg, Ohio.  Roy initially worked as a blacksmith in his father’s shop.  After his parents died, Jeremiah in 1911 and Marietta in 1912, Roy married Jessie Coffman and moved to Springfield Township, Hamilton County, Ohio.  There, he made his living as a machinist.  He lived with my grandparents for a while, probably after he and his first wife Jessie were divorced and before he married his second wife Mary.  From what my mom has told me, the name “Pleasant” fit him well – she really liked him. 

Pleasant Leroy Himes and his first wife, Jessie.  We believe Roy is the man
on the left.  We aren't sure who the other man is.
·         EXPERIENCE DAVIS REYNOLDS   This isn’t the only Experience in my family tree, but the first I discovered in the course of my research.  Experience was born April 9, 1751 to William and Elizabeth Gifford Davis in West Greenwich, Rhode Island.  She married Joseph Reynolds on October 31, 1771.  Experience is my sixth great-grandmother (Experience – Johanna Reynolds Shaw – Sylvester Shaw – Elmina Shaw Dunn – Lulu Dunn Wardlow – Elma Wardlow Ballein – Esther Ballein Davis – Russell Lee Davis – me).  At some point after their marriage, Experience and Joseph moved to New York.  Experience and Joseph had 15 children.  By 1799, they had moved to Limestone (now Maysville) in Mason County, Kentucky.  Shortly thereafter, they crossed the Ohio River and settled in what later became Jackson Township, Brown County, Ohio.  Their community became known as the Yankee Settlement.  Experience died November 11, 1832, surviving her husband Joseph by almost nine years.  

·         THE PURCELL FAMILY                     My great grand-aunt Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ballein and her second husband Simon Purcell hold the distinction in my family tree for having the children with the most unusual names.  Their children were my grandmother Jennie Esther Ballein’s cousins.  Ready?  Laura Ina (OK, that name’s all right), Ethel U. (Ethel isn’t unusual, but what could the U stand for?), Cleta Q., Rhemi Olen, Philo Uscana, Euchus Orien, and Seanthus.  Unfortunately, I don’t know much about this family but I would love to hear about them.

·         NIMROD PRICE                                 I remember when I announced to my parents that there was a Nimrod in our family tree on my dad’s side of the family.  My mom commented “Now it’s all starting to make sense!”  However, this Nimrod wasn’t anyone’s fool (and neither was my dad or I, Mom).  Nimrod was the brother of my fourth great-grandfather Jeremiah Price (Jeremiah Price – Catherine Price Steward – Sarah Steward Ogden – Rosa Ogden Davis – James Quincy Davis – Russell Lee Davis – me).  In the early 1800s, he settled with his parents Daniel and Catherine Preisch in a settlement known as Germany in Hamilton County Ohio.  By the time of the Civil War, Nimrod was a fairly successful farmer.   However, during the war his land became valuable for another purpose.  The Union Army established Camp Dennison, a military recruitment and training camp and hospital in Germany.  He leased his land to the government for an estimated $12 to $20 per acre per month.  After the camp was deactivated, the name Camp Dennison stuck and the town continues to be known by that name. 
Nimrod Price died in 1874 and is buried in the Waldschmidt Cemetery
in Camp Dennison, Ohio

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Donaldsons on the Frontier

I have to admit that it wasn’t easy for me to become excited about researching the Donaldson family, my maternal grandfather’s family.  Maybe it was because until my grandfather, Eddie Earl Donaldson, moved here in the 1910s, none of my direct Donaldson ancestors lived in southwestern Ohio.  So, information on the Donaldson family wasn’t as easy for me to come by as it was for other branches of my family.

For quite a while, I wasn’t able to trace any further back than my fourth great-grandfather, Ebenezer Donaldson and his wife, Rebecca Hillis Donaldson.  Then one day I came across A History of the Donaldson Family and Its Connections by Alexander Donaldson on Google Books.  The story told in this book of Ebenezer’s parents and grandparents, if accurate, is quite incredible.  Personally, I am a bit of a skeptic about some of this story, since much of it was passed on through family tradition.  I have found additional information from other sources, some that corroborates the information in the Donaldson history, and some doesn’t.  This is the story I have pieced together from the various sources.
Jacob Donaldson (Ebenezer’s grandfather and my sixth great-grandfather) was born in York County, Pennsylvania and ultimately settled in the area of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.  He and his wife Janet had six children, Margaret, James, Jane, Mary, Elizabeth, and James.   Margaret first married a Mr. Stewart. I’m unclear where the Stewarts lived in Pennsylvania.   According to the obituary of one of Margaret’s sons, during the French and Indian War, she and Mr. Stewart left their children in their home while they went to a spring to get water.  Margaret and Mr. Stewart were attacked by Indians, who killed and scalped Mr. Stewart and captured Margaret.  While prisoner, Margaret gave birth to her third child whom her captors reportedly killed because of its crying. 

Margaret was later given to a different tribe that treated her more kindly.  She was away from her home for six or seven years before she was finally released.  When she returned home, she learned that another of her children had died while she was gone.  Later, she married Robert Orr and had five more children.  The Orr family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1798. 
Jacob Donaldson was killed in battle against the Indians prior to the Revolutionary War, possibly during the French and Indian War.  At the time his estate was settled in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1762, his eldest son James was also dead.  By this time, Margaret had apparently been captured and released by the Indians, since she was referred to in the estate documents as Robert Orr’s wife.

Jacob’s son Isaac was my fifth great-grandfather.  He and Martha Reynolds were married around 1769.  Isaac served in Captain John Rea’s militia company of the First Battalion of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War according to documentation contained in Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, Volume VI.   Jacob purchased land in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and settled there with his family.
 By 1780, Isaac and Martha had five children, James, Ebenezer, Sarah, Margaret, and Isaac.  The Donaldson History says that in the summer and fall of 1780 there were Indian attacks in the area.  Back in those days, there were stockade forts where settlers could take refuge from such attacks.  Isaac, Martha, and their young family took refuge at Fort Wallace, moved onto Fort Ligonier (more likely a nearby stockade fort, Fort Preservation, rather than the military fort used during the French Indian War), and back to Fort Wallace.

In the spring of 1781, Isaac, returned to work on his property and Martha and the children remained at the fort.  The Donaldson history states that Isaac boarded with a “George Pumroy.”  Old Westmoreland: A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler indicates that Isaac was working for Colonel John Pomeroy.  Sources differ slightly on what exactly happened on the morning of Sunday April 1, 1781.  The Donaldson history states that Isaac walked a little distance from the house when the Pomeroy family saw Indians attack.  The Hassler account says that Pomeroy and three hired men were working in a field when the Indians attacked.  One man (Isaac) was killed, two ran for help, and Pomeroy ran back to the cabin to hide his children and fight off the attack with his wife.  When help arrived the following morning, they found Isaac’s scalped body and buried it.
Martha was now widowed with five children.  The Donaldson history describes her story as follows:

Shortly before [Isaac’s] death, [Martha] was bitten on the foot by a copper-head, and her oldest son dug a hole in yellow clay and buried her foot in it, and then poured cream around it until the cream assumed a greenish color, and the poison was extracted.  On the day when [Isaac] was killed, . . . she was crossing a stream on a log, carrying her youngest son, an infant, when, losing her balance, she fell into the water, and again the oldest son ran for help, and secured their rescue from a watery grave.
According to the Donaldson history, these events and her husband’s death caused Martha to descend into mental illness.  Her sister, Sarah Reynolds, took over the childrearing duties.  Martha died in late 1782. 

In April 1783, Martha’s brother John Reynolds returned to the area where Isaac was killed and took four of the five Donaldson children with him.  The exception was Ebenezer, who lived with family and acquaintances in York County, Pennsylvania.  Since Ebenezer is my ancestor, I would like to know why he didn’t go with the rest of the family and with whom he lived.
Ebenezer apparently lost contact with his brothers and sisters.  During the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, James Donaldson scraped together enough money for a trip to the Pittsburgh area, surmising that Ebenezer might be among the troops President Washington sent from eastern Pennsylvania counties to put down the insurrection in southwestern Pennsylvania.  After making some inquiries, James found his brother and the family was reunited.

Unbelievable story, isn’t it?  The stuff that movies, not my family history, are made of.   Maybe someday I’ll be able to determine how accurate it is!