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Posts Tagged ‘Johnson’

Locating the maiden name of my second great-grandmother has taken over ten years.  If I had been able to order film from my local Family History Center, it could have taken several years less. However, thanks to the digitized Ohio death and marriage records on Familysearch.org, I was able to put a surname to the woman who married Florus Allen House (born Jan 5, 1813 in Connecticut, died June 25, 1891 in Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Ohio) on April 14, 1836.

From the death record of their daughter, Nancy Elizabeth House (m. Oscar DeLong), the informant, Mabel Harding (her daughter), listed Nancy’s mother’s name as Julia Lewis. Another family member’s death certificate also listed the name Julia Lewis. When I looked up the marriage record, on the off chance it had been digitized by Familysearch.org, I looked for Michigan marriage records because the story had been passed around that Florus and Julia Ann were married in Michigan. I found the marriage record – but not in Michigan – in Muskingum County, Ohio. Florus House and Julia Ann Lewis were married in that county!

Upon picking apart the short marriage detail in the book, I saw that after Julia’s name it read: “from Falls Township, Muskingum County.” Since they were married in 1836, I realized I should look at Census records from 1820 (when Julia was about five years old) through 1830.  In the 1820 Census records from Fall Township, I found the household of Able Lewis that had 2 females under the age of 10. In the 1830 Census in Falls Township, there were 2 females 10-15 years old. Both records fit Julia’s age. So who was this Able Lewis? Who was his wife?

In the Muskingum County Rootsweb archives list, I found a query from Nan E. Sabulsky, who posted on August 9, 1998:

Searching for decendents of John LEWIS b.abt. 1810 Muskingum co., Ohio married Eliza MCVAY in abt.1835 in Cochocton Co. I believe they lived in Falls Township,Muskingum Co. John’s father was Able Lewis and mother was Nancy ROBINSON of Falls Twnshp., Muskingum Co. John had a brother George and brother Edwin. He also had a sister, however I do not have her name.

Could this be the same family that I was looking for?  In the 1860 Census of Falls Township, Muskingum County, I found a George Lewis who had an eight year old daughter named Julia Ann. Could this George be the same person Mrs. Sabulsky referenced in her post? If he was Julia Ann’s brother, then possibly he named his daughter after his sister.

Digging further into the Able Lewis and Nancy Robinson family, I discovered that the spellings of the first name could either be Able or Abel. I also noticed that Robinson was Nancy’s name after her first marriage – her maiden name was either Johnson or Johnston, and she either went by Ann or Nancy.

Mrs. Sabulsky also lists a first wife for Abel Lewis, along with three children born before 1810.  She lists Abel Lewis birth as before 1775 in Pennsylvania and his death after 1825 in Ohio.  In another article (Schneider, Norris F. “Lodge of Amity”. Soldier Ant. 2 May 2003. Web.) was this information:

Abel Lewis became a Mason in White Horse Lodge No. 50 in Pennsylvania and worked as a visitor at American Union Lodge before coming to Zanesville. He was the first clerk of the court of common pleas in Muskingum County and postmaster of Zanesville in 1805. He became insane in 1813 and was supported by his Masonic brethren in the county jail until he escaped in 1826. He was never heard from again.

In a digitized book accessed on Google Books (Parker, Leonard Fletcher. “History of Poweshiek County, Iowa: a record of settlement, organization, progress and achievement, Volume 2.” 1911. Published by The S. J. Clarke publishing co. Original held by New York Public Library. Digitized 24 January 2008. Web.) was this article about Judge W.R. Lewis, son of John Lewis and Louisa A. Ramey, grandson of Abel Lewis:

JUDGE W. R. LEWIS.

With the work of framing as well as interpreting the laws of Iowa Judge W. R. Lewis has been closely associated, serving at different times as a member of the upper house of the state legislature and as judge of the circuit and district courts. Aside from this he has won a wide and enviable reputation as a learned lawyer, seldom, if ever, at fault in the application of a legal principle. For more

 

than a half century he has been a resident of Poweshiek county, having come here in the days of his early manhood, his birth having occurred near Zanesville, Muskingum county, Ohio, on the 12th of October, 1835. He was, therefore, about twenty-two years of age when he arrived in Poweshiek county and nine years later was admitted to the bar.

He comes of Welsh and German ancestry. His father, John M. Lewis, was born in Muskingum county, Ohio, his natal year being 1811. He was a son of Abel Lewis, who was born near White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, and was a college graduate. In the latter part of the eighteenth century he removed to Ohio and became a government surveyor in Muskingum and Coshocton counties. He took part in several of the Indian wars and was closely associated with many of the events which led to the reclamation of Ohio for the purpose of civilization. Following his marriage he established his home in Zanesville and there served as clerk of the court for four years. He was also the author of some mathematical works. Entering a large tract of land, he became interested in agricultural pursuits, took up his abode on his farm and spent the residue of his days there. For many years he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and his entire life was the exemplification of his Christian belief.

John M. Lewis, the father of Judge Lewis, married Louisa A. Ramey and settled upon a part of the old homestead, five and a half miles from Zanesville. Subsequently he took up his abode at New Castle, Coshocton county, Ohio, and engaged in merchandising as a member of the firm of Thornhill, Berry & Lewis. The discovery of gold, however, attracted him,to, California in 1851, the journey to the coast being made by way of the’ jsthrmts of Panama. He spent two years in prospecting and mining, in whicline was cf afcljj successful. He then returned to New Castle and soon afterward retired from business. He, too, belonged to the Methodist Episcopal churclT,-<and,,hisj)Qliiical allegiance was given to the republican party. His wife was born”in Muskingum county, a daughter of Sanford Ramey, a native of Virginia and of German descent. He became one of the early settlers of Ohio and his daughter Louisa was born and reared in that state. Her death occurred in 1886.

Judge Lewis, the eldest in a family of ten children, spent the first ten years of his life in his native county and then removed with his parents to Coshocton county, Ohio. For four or five years he attended school during the winter months, the remainder of the year being spent in assisting his father in the store. He was also at intervals engaged in farm work and took up the study of surveying. He read law in New Castle and while thus engaged followed the profession of surveying for several years. In 1856 he took the first step in the removals which brought him eventually to Iowa. In that year he became a resident of Southport, Peoria county, Illinois, where he worked at the carpenter’s trade and also spent a month in farm labor. During the winter he taught school at Southport and in the spring of 1857 he came to Montezuma, then a little village of four or five hundred inhabitants. Since that time he has continuously resided in Poweshiek county and has made for himself a high and eviable position in the regard of his fellowmen. Through the summer months he worked at carpentering or at other employment which he could secure and his evening hours were devoted to the further study of law. He thus soon qualified for admission to the bar but he determined not to seek admission until he felt that he could give his entire attention to law practice. He recognized the fact that to do this he must have a certain amount of capital to tide him over that initial period in the life of every lawyer when he must spend some time in waiting for clients.

In the fall of 1857 Judge Lewis secured the position of principal of the public schools and did splendid works as one of the early educators of Poweshiek county. While active in that capacity he was largely instrumental in organizing the teachers’ institute and he also graded the schools of Montezuma. This work alone would entitle him to the lasting gratitude of his fellow townsmen. In 1862 he was elected county superintendent of schools and before the expiration of his term was chosen by popular suffrage for the office of clerk of the county and district courts. In the latter position he served acceptably for a term, after which he resigned to form a partnership with Hon. M. E. Cutts, former member of congress, to conduct a milling business, which was carried on successfully for a great period, after which he sold out. For a year he occupied the position of deputy treasurer and for two years as a member of the county board of supervisors served as its chairman. He has ever regarded a public office as a public trust and it is well known that no public trust reposed in Judge Lewis has ever been betrayed in the slightest degree. Capable, diligent and loyal, he won the confidence and good-will of the public through his devotion to duty in the offices which he was called upon to fill in the earlier years of his residence here.

At length, feeling that the time was ripe when he might give his attention to his profession, in 1866 he applied for and secured admission to the bar and entered upon active practice, being associated for a time with the Hon. D. H. Emery, while later he became a partner of C. R. Clark. He won success because he wisely and conscientiously used the talents with which nature endowed him. An analytical mind enabled him to bring a trend of reasoning to its logical conclusion and to accurately apply the principles of law to the points at issue. His successful handling of cases early in his legal career awakened public confidence and brought him an increased clientage. In the fall of 1880 he was honored with election to the circuit court bench for the district embracing Poweshiek. Jefferson, Washington, Keokuk, Mahaska, Marion and Jasper counties, becoming the second circuit judge, his predecessor having been Judge Blanchard. After filling the position for four years the district was divided and he was elected judge of the first circuit, which included Jefferson, Washington, Keokuk and Poweshiek counties. He continued upon that bench until 1886, when, upon the abolishment of the circuit court, he was made one of the three judges for the district. There was keen strife for the office and Judge Lewis was not renominated by his party at the time but in response to the unanimous wish of his constituents he permitted his name to be used as an independent candidate and was elected by a sweeping majority. There was a prevailing belief that his defeat in the convention was due to unfair means and this contributed to his success at the polls. He retired from the bench in 1890, after a judicial service of ten years, and resumed the practice of law in Montezuma. A contemporary biographer has said of him:

“He is a man of great legal ability and while on the bench was a warm friend of the young practitioner. He never permitted a young lawyer to sacrifice his client’s interest if a word or suggestion from the court could help him. His decisions were rarely reversed. No district or circuit judge has a better record in the supreme court than Judge Lewis. So unerring were his views, especially in equity cases, that the attorneys in his court learned it was next to useless to appeal as he was nearly always sustained. He was slow in deciding but his work never had to be done a second time. As special counsel for the county in the famous cases against the Rowes and against the bondsmen of the defaulting treasurer he earned new laurels.”

Following his retirement from the bench Judge Lewis during the year 1891 acted as general manager for the Hawkeye Electric Manufacturing Company, with headquarters at Davenport, but in the fall of 1891 again took up his abode in Montezuma and has since been actively associated with the work of the courts and at seventy-five years of age has a large and lucrative law practice, doing as much court work as he ever did in his younger days. In addition he has proved his worth in the management of commercial interests. He was one of the organizers of the Montezuma Electric Light & Power Company, superintended the construction of the plant and took up the management of the business. He also superintended the erection and installation of the electric light works at Bloomfield and at Sigourney and assisted in surveying the route for the Grinnell & Montezuma Railroad. He made and published the first map of Poweshiek county and at all times has been closely associated with the growth and progress of the county not alone by reason of his connection with industrial and commercial affairs or with the legal profession but also because he has been the champion of every project and measure which he deemed of value in the public life of the community. He was again called to office in the fall of 1897, when he was nominated by acclamation for the state senate at the republican convention of the twelfth senatorial district, comprising Poweshiek and Keokuk counties. The election showed that he was the popular candidate and for four years he remained a member of the upper house. He gave careful consideration to each question which came up for settlement and left the impress of his individuality and ability upon the laws enacted during that period.

In 1865, in Burlington, Vermont, Mr. Lewis was united in marriage to Miss Mary E. Cutts, a daughter of Edwin Cutts, of Brandon, Vermont, and a sister of M. E. Cutts, of Oskaloosa. The marriage relation between them was always of a most ideal character and the deepest grief in the life of Judge Lewis came to him in the death of his wife on the 10th of April, 1893.

Fraternally Judge Lewis is connected with Masonry as a Knight Templar and belongs also to the Iowa Legion, the Ancient Order of United Workmen and to the Iowa State Bar Association. He has never faltered in his stalwart support of the republican party and its principles and has served as chairman of the county central committee. He was a member of the first city council of Montezuma and while important political interests relative to the work of the courts and to the law-making body of the state have claimed his attention he has never considered himself above the duties connected with the management of local interests. A lifelong member of the Presbyterian church, he has served as elder and trustee and for a number of years was superintendent of the Sunday school, in which position he continued until his election to the bench. He is today one of the oldest residents of Montezuma in years of continuous connection with the city, and among the men of Poweshiek county who have been long in public service the record of none has been more constant in honor, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation.

There is solid documentation that any of these people are the family of my Julia Ann Lewis. However, I have information that I can try to disprove now. The one thing I do know is that Julia Ann Lewis is my second great-grandmother – who her parents and siblings were is still up for debate until I find hard evidence.

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The journey is taking a surprising turn . . .

If you’ve followed this series, in Part 1 , I explained how I’m on the search to find out how the Moffitt family is connected to my maternal Johnson family. In Part 2, I examined some letters from Elenora Johnson Moffitt’s daughters that shed some light on the relationship.

Yesterday, I decided to check the Henry County Genealogical Society webpage to see if I could find any information on the Moffitt family.  I clicked on the Death Records and scrolled down.  Listed under Moffitt, Christopher – I saw that he died on July 8, 1939 at the age of 84 years old.  The informaton also gave me what Book Name, book number and page number the record was located.  Then I saw Moffitt, Ellen O. (not Elenora) who died on October 26, 1929 with the same type of information on what book, number and page to find her death record. 

Under obituaries, I found that the Banner (a newspaper in Knightstown, Indiana), had an index of obituaries on their sight.  There was also a warning that because so many people had called up to complain about inaccuracies, it was a strong possibility that the index might be taken down as well.  And no one at the paper was going to go off and look for any information.  However, I found both people.

Ellen Ora’s obituary apparently lists not only her husband and children – but her parents!!  Her obituary is located in the November 1, 1929 edition of the Banner, on pages 1 and 3.  I am no where near Knightstown so I can’t just go down to the local library and look it up.  The Banner people obviously have had enough of “genealogy” people complaining about things so they won’t be able to help me.  What I really need is someone to go to the local Knightstown library or the Henry County Genealogical Society and look up the obituary – since I’ve provided date and page – and be able to at least give me the parents’ names.  That would be a big help and a wonderful gift. 

So in the meantime, I will continue to scour the census records to see if I can find Ellen Johnson, Ora Johnson, or Ellen O. Johnson (perhaps Ella Nora – depending on what the census taker heard and wrote down).

Stay tuned for more!

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And the journey continues . . .

In my previous post, Moffitt Mystery, I told about how I discovered that the family of C.C. (Christopher Columbus) Moffitt was related to my maternal line, the Johnson family. I found the reunion minute book and the letter I wrote about. I also found another letter in the book that I had forgotten about.

In a letter from Bess Lukens, daughter of C.C. Moffitt and Elenora Johnson, and wife of Ben Lukens, written on August 21, 1940, to those at the reunion and addressed to my grandmother (who was secretary of the reunion committee at the time), she said:

Dear Johnson & Shively,
Would like very much to be with you this year and enjoy the day, but am sorry to say it will be impossible to do so.  Will send you the names of my children and their families. My eldest son, Robert, his wife Jane and children, Bobby, Billy and Janene, then my daughter Doris Dalrymple, her husband Lawrence and their daughter Carol Ann – they all live in Knightstown.  My youngest son Eugene is in the Marine Corp at Great Lakes, Ill.
Hope this will help you out, should you wish any more information that I can furnish you, please write me.  Hope to with you all some day.
I remain, a cousin
Bess Lukens
Knightstown, Ind.

That letter provided me with other names I had seen in the past – either connected to the Johnson-Shively reunion or letters of my grandparents.  It didn’t tell me anything other than somehow Bess was related to the Johnson family. It would take more information for me to discover just who she was.

On August 28, 1941 a letter was written – also addressed to my grandmother – from Helen Land who lived at 217 N.W. 5th St., Richmond, Indiana.  She was Bess’ sister and the youngest child of C.C. and Elnora.  She wrote:

Dear Johnsons:
We received the card announcing the Johnson – Shively reunion and are so sorry we won’t be able to attend, as our plans were made for over Labor day, for several wks. prior to receiving the card, but it is much to my regrets that I can’t be with ou all, and enjoy that scrumptous dinner, you Johnsons and Shivelys can prepare, and to mingle with my mother’s people again.
In some way or another the Johnson blood tie is very dear to me. I believe Mother must have been a typical Johnson. She was surely a fine woman and tho’ she’s been gone most twelve years (will be Oct 26) I miss her every day & miss her companionship. Our Dad has been  gone away now two yrs. last July 8. His last few years were very declining and his going was a great relief to himself & I really miss him – for I was my “Daddy’s baby” and was for 37 yrs and that was a long time you know to be loved so tenderly as he always did me. (Now I told my age.) ha!
Well so much for that. The rest of the girls are well. Our oldest sister, which some may remember, attended the reunion with us several yrs back, when held at Riverside at Anderson, is now located at Goble Oregon and I had a letter not long since & they are well & happy.
Our one and only brother seems to be doing quite well for himself. He is a general contractor in Waldport Oregon. He has two grand children and four children in the west too.
One sister, Elva, whom I really think has never attended a reunion lives at Lafayette. Lena, whom you all know, lives here in Richmond and I see her and her family quite often. Her daughter’s husband (Ernest Fletcher) whom you’ve all met died suddenly a yr. ago last Mar 22 and that was quite a shock to all of us. Lena said to tell you, that they should like to have been with you, too, had like wise made previous plans for over Labor Day.
Bess, Ethel and Hazel all live at Knightstown and Hazel had the misfortune to lose her son Howard Price almost 3 1/2 yrs ago. Bess is a widow now too.
Well now all eight of us are taken care of I think – only to tell you that I think I have three nice kiddies & of whom I’m real proud. My oldest girl is 19. My son most 17, and my baby girl is nost 13, and they are all quite large. Phyllis is working, having graduated in ’40. Weldon will enter the 11A class in Senior Hi. this fall.  Ruth Eleanor will enter the 7A. class in Jr. Hi. Carlos, the husband and daddy is well and working hard on the defense work in the shop and as to myself since having had several surgical operations and one thing and another have gained back a lot of that weight that I used to carry around but I do feel well and why should I let a few pounds worry me. Eh? Anyway mama was stout and I was proud of her & people tell me I look like my mom so why should I let it worry me – I say.
I am wanting to know why and when the Reunion was changed to the last Sun. in August? Was supposed it was over with or  there just wasn’t any anymore. The Moffitt’s have their reunion on the first Sun. of Aug. now. We didn’t attend it this yr either. As to the J-S’s reunion if there should be another, I hope to be able to attend it, and would have this year if I had known about it just a few days earlier but we had made other plans for over Labor Day and again I’m sorry but know you’ll all have a nice time & altho’ I won’t be there in person, I’ll be thinking of you and send all my Love and best wishes to you (all) and hope to be with you next year.
Sincerely yours
Helen M. land
I should be glad to have some of you write to me.
I always will remember the swell times I always used to have with all of you.

 Helen Land’s letter gave me the clues that her mother was a Johnson – and even though that is such a common surname – she was part of this Johnson clan; information about her siblings, children, and spouse; and how regretful she was that she wasn’t able to attend the reunion.  From her sentence about how long her mother and father had been gone, I knew about what year they had died – which corresponded to the date of death for C.C. Moffitt that I’d found in the reunion book.  I also learned the correct spelling for her maiden name – as I have also seen it spelled “Moffett”, “Moffit”, “Moffatt”, and “Moffet”.  Two “f”s and two “t”s and an “i” – not an “e” or “a”.

My research has been online (as I am not able to travel to see the actual documents).  What I found for C.C. Moffitt’s and Elenora Johnson’s children are as follows:

1. Ancestry had census records for the Jesse Virgil Kenworthy family – which confirmed that Myrtle Moffitt (oldest daughter of C.C. Moffitt and Elenora Johnson was his wife.  The 1900, 1910 and 1920 U.S. Census recorded them living in Oregon.  They had two sons.  The 1930 U.S. Census showed that the family had moved to California.  I also found a marriage record on Familysearch in Indiana. They married on August 8, 1899 in Rush County, Indiana.  Interestingly, I found another marriage record for them on June 21, 1925 from Gooding County, Idaho.  So sometime between the recording of the 1920 U.S. Census and then, they divorced but got remarried.  Another mystery – what happened?  Jesse Virgil died on April 16, 1956 in Clackamas, Oregon and Myrtle died on December 12, 1970 in the same county.  So the couple returned to Oregon from California.

2. Lena Moffitt’s married Earl B. Atkins in Knightstown, Indiana on February 12, 1902.  Her mother’s first name is spelled Elnora.  It also shows that this was the first marriage for both.

3. Elva Moffitt married Harry F. Griffith in Henry County, Indiana on March 31, 1909.  Her birth place is listed as Rush County, Indiana.  Mother’s name is listed as Ellen Johnson. Elva and Harry are found in the 1920 U.S. Census living in Deer Creek, Carroll County, Indiana with their two children – Kathryn and Paul.  They are in the same area in the 1930 U.S. Census and Paul is the only child at home.  Harry died in September 1971.  Elva died in April 1979.

4. Carl A. Moffitt – only son of C.C. and Elenora – married Clenna Marie Smith on November 25, 1909 in Henry County.  His place of birth is listed as Rush County. The family is found in the 1910 U.S. Census on Ancestry in Rush County, Indiana.  There are no children.  The World War I Draft Registration Card for Carl is in Missoula County, Montana.  In the 1920 U.S. Census they are in Wayne Township, Henry County, Indiana with their two oldest children – Donald and Juanita. In the 1930 U.S. Census they are living in Portland, Oregon with their three sons and 1 daughter: Donald, Juanita, David and Dick. The Social Security Death Index shows that Carl died in August 1971 with his last residence in Lincoln County, Oregon.

5. Bessie Pearl Moffitt married Benjamin Lukens in New Castle, Indiana on November 26, 1912.  Bessie was born in Rush County, Indiana.  This was the groom’s second marriage and Bessie’s first.

6. Ethel Fay Moffitt married Horace E. Worth in Henry County, Indiana on December 14, 1910. Her place of birth is listed as Henry County, Indiana.  Mother’s name is listed as Ellen Johnson.

7. Mary Hazel Moffitt married Otto B. Price in Henry County, Indiana on February 10, 1914.  Hazel was born in Henry County, Indiana.  In the 1930 U.S. Census on Ancestry, the family is living in Knightstown, Henry County, Indiana with their two children, Howard and Janice.  Also in the household is Hazel’s father, listed as Columbus C Moffitt, age 75.  He is listed as a widower.

8. Also on Familysearch I found the marriage information for Helen Moffitt (spelled “Moffett”) to Carlos E. Land in Rush County, Indiana on July 24, 1921.  The bride’s mother’s name is listed as Ellenora Johnson and the bride is listed as being born in Henry County, Indiana on November 9, 1902.

There are more records to research – still no idea how Elenora is related to my Johnson’s.  I’ll take a look at Jacob and Ann (Shields) Johnson’s children next to see if Elenora was a child of one of them.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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Moffitt Mystery

Follow me on my journey . . .

As I try to discover how the Moffitts were related to my maternal Johnson family.  My first brush with this family came when I was reading the minutes from the Johnson reunions.  These minutes were kept in a book and ended up in the possession of my grandparents – Glen R. and Vesta (Wilt) Johnson.  My grandmother was the secretary of the reunion committee for the last several years that it was held.

In the book for the 25th reunion, held on August 23, 1939 under Deaths was this notation: C. C. Moffitt, Knightstown, Ind.  Thus began my search for who C.C. Moffitt was in relation to the Johnsons.  In the back of the book was a list of addresses.  One of the listings was: Mr. C.E. Land, 18 North Franklin St. Knightstown, Ind.  Further down was: Mrs. C.C. Moffitt, Knightstown  R.R. #2.

Stuck in the back of the book was a letter from a Mrs. Helen Land.  She talked about not being able to attend one of the reunions.  Other items she mentioned alerted me that her mother, who had passed away, had been a Johnson by birth.  I started searching on some of the genealogy sites until I ran across a Helen Moffitt who had married a Carlos Land.  Helen’s father was Christopher Columbus Moffitt.  Mother reportedly Elenora Johnson.  Then I found some census records that documented the names.

At this moment, the reunion book and letter from Helen Land are in a file cabinet in the back of a room that is full of stuff right now.  Once I get my hands on that book and letter, I can go through it line by line to see if I can find some other clues since it’s been a few years since I read it. 

I’ve yet to find a relationship between Elenora Johnson Moffitt and my Johnson line.  Obviously there was a connection, hence the information in the Johnson Reunion minutes, the addresses of those people and a letter from Elenora’s daughter. 

Elenora was born in July 1859.  The information I took this from is an undocumented family tree on Rootsweb.  No parents were listed.  

So where did I go from there?  Stay tuned for the second part of my journey – exploring the census records.

If you have any information about the Moffitt / Johnson connection or are familiar with the Christopher Columbus Moffitt family – possibly a descendent – please let me know – perhaps we can solve this puzzle together!

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Twenty seven years ago today, I was at work when my boss, the owner of the printing company for which I worked, opened the door to the graphics room and told me I had a phone call.  It was early afternoon and I still had an hour or so of work yet. No one usually called me at work.  As soon as I heard my brother’s voice, I knew.  I knew because that was how I had envisioned it happening a week or so before.  It wouldn’t be my mom calling me or anyone else – it would be my brother.  The words he spoke brought forth too many polarizing emotions.  I didn’t have to wonder anymore about when it would happen.  I knew that a life lived had been to the absolute fullest.  I knew that while everyone else in the family would be falling apart, that I would draw on my inner strength and remain strong for them.  This woman we spoke of had been a constant in my life since birth – the only grandmother that I knew.  When it seemed that my life was falling apart throughout different periods, she was my champion. When I was at my absolute lowest and disappointing everyone else, she hugged me and let me know that no matter what she wouldn’t be mad at me and would love me unconditionally.  Walking into my grandparents’ apartment later that evening and seeing my grandfather all dressed up in a suit – for he had been waiting to go see his beloved wife – stabbed my heart.  My mother expressed that my grandmother had really wanted to see her newest great-granddaughter, my baby, just a little over a month old, and had never gotten to.  I broke down in grief.

Within a week the family gathered to remember this matriarch of our family.  We laughed and we cried.  Six of us – grandchildren and great-grandchildren – were pallbearers.  It was such a cold day – the day we carried the casket out of the church into the waiting hearse.  Snow covered the ground.  We traveled to the cemetery and had a final service in the chapel.  It would be several more years before I went to the gravesite.  When I did return, it would be to visit not only my grandmother and my mom’s baby sister, but also my grandfather, who wasn’t able to go on after the love of his life was gone.  He passed away a year less a day after she did.

Like me, my grandmother was a child of divorced parents.  When I was young and going through the rough patches of my parents animosity, she would always comfort me and tell me she knew what I felt.  As a young child, I used to spend weekends with my grandparents.  I was the youngest of their eight grandchildren – by fourteen years – so to say that I was spoiled by them is an understatement!  In my defense, I never asked for them to spoil me and in their defense, during the time the others were young and growing, my grandparents lived in Germany and were always traveling due to my grandfather’s military duty or for pleasure.  They missed a lot of holidays and birthdays with my siblings and cousins.

Vesta Christena Wilt was born on May 7, 1898 in Noblesville, Indiana to Joseph N. Wilt and Martha Jane Stern.  She was the oldest girl and fourth child.  Another daughter and son followed her.  Before she was 12, her parents had divorced.  Her mother married her widowed brother-in-law, Frank Clawson.  The family moved from Noblesville to Anderson, Indiana and on Easter Sunday 1916 she met the man she would spend the rest of her life with.  Vesta dated Glen Roy Johnson for several months and the two got married at Martha and Frank’s house on Christmas Eve 1916.  The following December their first child, a son named after his father, was born. As the years went by the family added their first daughter, Genevieve, and then a second daughter, Mary (my mother), and lastly baby Lois Evelyn who was born prematurely and died just a little over 2 months later.

 

My grandmother knew her own heartache. She was separated from her beloved Glen for quite awhile while he went to training for the Signal Corps and then went overseas to France during WWI.  She had been separated from her mother and two youngest siblings after Martha moved to Oregon before my mother was born.  She lost a baby and then much later watched her oldest daughter suffer from a brain tumor and ultimately succumb to another inoperable one.  She lost the father that she hadn’t seen for so long without having that estranged relationship mended.  As the years wore on, she watched her youngest daughter struggle and grieve for the end of an almost 30 year marriage.  She lost her mother and three brothers.  She sat by her husband’s hospital bedside for months as he recuperated from a blood cot on his brain that he had suffered in a fall.

Then her health began to fail.  She wasn’t a stranger to health issues – having one ailment and surgery or another throughout her adult life.  But after she broke her elbow in the early 1970s, she was never as healthy as she had been.  All too soon she was experiencing a heart attack every three months.  I was very scared about losing her – not only for myself but for what it would do to my mother. After hospital stays and a change in her diet and medication, it seemed she rallied from the heart issues (although they were still there). 

The family would gather for a surprise birthday we had for her at our house.  She was so surprised when she walked in through the garage to the dining room and most of her family.  Then there was the 60th wedding anniversary celebration at their apartment complex.  Long time friends, church friends, military friends, and the family and extended family came to honor them.  We were only missing one of my cousins and her family.

I moved away for awhile and when I returned back to my hometown, I realized just how she had aged – my grandfather too.  I knew that as the years had ticked by, time was winding down for their life among us.  My grandfather had been the one who had several health issues before I had moved away and I guess I had thought that he might be the one to go first.  Then she was hospitalized and then again several weeks later.  That visit was one she wouldn’t return home from.  I learned later that she had told the apartment manager as the EMTs were wheeling her to the ambulance to make sure her husband would be okay.  Did she know she wouldn’t come home? Did she decide that it would be okay to go if it was her time?

My grandmother – Vesta Wilt Johnson – born on May 7, 1898 – died on January 19, 1984.  My grandfather – Glen Roy Johnson – born November 21, 1898 – died on January 18, 1985.  They were the glue of the family.  There are times during holidays and celebrations, the family left an empty chair – in honor of our grandmother.  Our Beloved Nana – the woman whose “grandmother” moniker I have assumed for my own grandchildren – the woman whom I will never live up to as a grandmother – the woman who is always beside me in times of trouble – smiling and cheering me on.

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Volunteer as a noun is defined by Dictionary.com as:

a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking or a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

Volunteerism is defined by the same source as above as:

the policy or practice of volunteering one’s time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, esp. in one’s community.

I pondered how being a volunteer and volunteerism correlated with my family history and genealogy.  I can remember many activities that my mother took part in that would qualify as “volunteer”. 

  1. Girl Scout Leader
  2. Church Council member and President
  3. Church committee member
  4. Parent Teacher Organization member
  5. Substitute Teacher (when it was all volunteer)
  6. Working at school carnivals and community festivals
  7. Helping to coordinate her alumna banquets
  8. Driving elderly friends or church members to church, church functions or back home
  9. Hosting women’s or club functions or bridge parties
  10. Driving her teenage daughter (me) and friends everywhere

As a member of several organizations (Parents Without Partners, American Legion, FOE Auxilliary, and a Square Dancing Club), I’m sure she put in a good many volunteer hours.  Through the church, even when she was ill and couldn’t do very much, she still volunteered to cook chickens that would be used for the Tuesday night dinners the church held for the community.

My mom saw volunteerism modeled by both of her parents who were very active in community organizations.  My grandparents either separately or together were members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (N.A.R.F.E.), American Legion, Eastern Star, and Daughters of America.  My grandfather served on the Council for the Village he resided in and worked hard toward the merger of the towns of Fairfield and Osborn in Greene County, Ohio long before they did merge to become Fairborn.  He also was a Boy Scout leader for many years and a member of the Masons.

My mom’s brother also saw the modeling of this type of volunteerism of his parents and became very active in the community as an adult.  He helped organize the Battle Creek (Michigan) Hot Air Balloon championships; was a member of the Masons and the Lions club; member of the Battle Creek chamber of commerce who started the Leadership Academy; helped with Battle Creek’s sesquicentenial celebration leading to the formation of PRIDE INC., of Keep America Beautiful; and many other activities.

Researching the many volunteer activities and the organizations my family members have been involved, has led me to the conclusion that they were very giving people and have passed on this sense of helping others.  I have spent a good number of years wondering if “no” is part of my vocabulary. 

At the age of not yet 50, I have been a Girl Scout Leader for two of my daughters; spent many years on the Christian Education board at church and the Cemetery Board; have now sat on the PTA as a board member and officer for 4 years; helped with one of our community organizations via our church by helping to make lunches for low income families during the summer; as a coordinator, treasurer and public relations chair for a parent organization; and other activities.

So how do I pass this on?  Will my volunteerism or that of my mother, my uncle, and my grandparents impact the lives of my children, grandchildren or the great-grandchildren yet to be?  And how does one go about volunteering without it being all about them?  Helping others – either within a structured organization or individually – is not to make a name for oneself.  It shouldn’t be done with the thought that others will think more highly of you.

Volunteering in the name of genealogy should take on the same thought process.  If you are in the position to help someone – whether it is spending an hour at the local libary looking up obituaries or a census index; going to a nearby cemetery to photograph/transcribe a few headstones; or pointing someone in the right direction – you should.  Just because it is the right thing to do.  Someday you may need that type of help.  Very limited. Very specific.

I don’t know how much I’ve contributed to other’s research however I have received communications from very, very distant cousins or people researching the same surname as I am, and I’ve at least responded or sent them my own communication.  If nothing else, I hope they feel that they aren’t out in the genealogy research “world” without a paddle – that someone else has read their query or message board post.

I’ve been helped immensely by volunteers.  Not only has a kind lady taken pictures of the requested headstones for me but she photographed other family members’ headstones and spent several hours at her local library researching the names and sent me news clippings.  And she didn’t want one penny for her time or her postage.  That is a volunteer – being selfless and not thinking about what was in it for her.

Two of my relatives in my Johnson line along with myself have pooled our resources and research and share everything about our shared lines that we find – including questions about whether we are on the right track. 

That is volunteerism through genealogy.

Another definition of Volunteer is someone who signs up, enters, and serves in the military.  Even though our service men and women do receive pay from the government, by offering to sacrifice themselves in order to assure our freedom – that is still volunteerism.

I’ve had many ancestors and family members who have volunteered in such a way.  My grandfather for WWI, and went on to serve until the Korean War.  My dad and his brothers who served during WWII and even beyond.  Cousins who served in the Viet Nam War.  Children of first cousins who served in the first Gulf War.  A great-grandfather who served in the Civil War.  Others who serve now – although not in a battle zone.  This type of selfless sacrifice has also been passed down through the generations.

Humanitarian?  Philanthropic? – they all add up to VOLUNTEER!

This post was written for the 88th Carnival of Genealogy.

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An update has been made to Mingling of Families and Murder. Please click on the link to be taken to more of the story!

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