Stories have filtered down through the family that my great-grandmother, Frances, was left on a doorstep as a baby. Her maiden name has been reported as Ogan – according to her husband’s, James House’s, application for invalid pension and her obituary – and Ogelvey – according to my dad and her son, (Alva) Lester House. Where did Frances come from? Obviously she wasn’t dropped to earth by the proverbial aliens! Was she left on a doorstep? Or did she get “farmed” out as so many children did back in the mid to late 1800’s due to financial reasons? Another theory leans to the fact that one of her parents died (or both) and she was brought up by relatives, god-parents, or neighbors.
Born on November 29, 1846, her obituary states that Frances was born in Guernsey, Ohio so that is where the census search began. She was found in the 1850 Census in Richhill Township, Muskingum County, Ohio living in the Evan & Susannah Ogan household at age 3 – her name is listed as Francis Foster. In the 1860 Guernsey census, Frances Foster (female), age 13, was living in the home of Evan and Susannah Ogan – both in their 70’s. In 1870, Frances Ogan, age 23, was living at a local hotel as a cook. After that she is found living in the House home. It is still unknown if the Frances in either of the 1850 or 1860 censuses is the woman being searched for – although her age matches with what is known. Evan and Susannah Ogan may have been related to Frances or another thought is she married their son or grandson before 1870 and he either died or the marriage ended. It has also been reported that she went by “Frankie” and her middle name was Virginia. Except for the census reports, most of these theories are conjecture and not to be taken as documented proof.
Frances daughter, Ella (my paternal grandmother), had auburn hair and since her father, James E. House, had dark hair and a dark complexion, it is possible that Frances had either auburn hair or was brunette with auburn undertones. Ella is the only one documented to have auburn hair until her great-granddaughter (my niece) came along.
Frances’ son, Lester House, wrote a letter to my aunt detailing what he could about his mother’s mysterious origins. It reads in part, “My mother was born some place near Cambridge, Ohio, her name was Frances Oglevey. As to her parents I don’t know much about. She was raised all around the County. She had to go out and work when she was only a child. The last place she worked over there was with people by the name of Blackson.”
In her adult years, there is more that is known. When my grandfather’s first wife, Barbara Shyrock, died leaving him with three little ones under the age of six, he employed Frances as his housekeeper and possible nanny to the children while he worked. Nine months after Barbara died, Frances and James had their first son. One month later, they were married. I often wonder what their explanation for that could have been! I also wonder how long James had known Frances before Barbara died. It isn’t known how Barbara died – whether she’d been ill for awhile or if it was sudden. Possibly if she had been unable to tend the home, James may have employed Frances prior to his wife’s death.
The couple went on to have seven more children. One son, Elmer, died at the age of four. Another son, Charles, died at age 12 in a farm accident. One daughter, Julia, died during childbirth at age 27. Frances had to endure so many losses – not only those of her children, but of her foster parents, Evan and Susannah. She had to sit by while her oldest son, Florus (named after James’ father), had symptoms of “lung fever” at age 15, was hurt in a mining accident a few years later, and was sent to serve during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Did she ever wonder about her parents or did she accept the life she had been given?
Perhaps my great-grandmother’s origins will never be solved but then again, she may be just waiting to be found. It’s just a matter of time.
(Left: Gravestone of James E. and Frances V. House, Prairie Chapel Cemetery, Coshocton County, Ohio)