5 Stories I Uncovered While Writing About My Ancestors

Vintage family photo with title 5 stories I uncovered while writing about my ancestors

I have shared several tips and strategies for starting the process of writing a family narrative, an essay about the folks on your family tree. In writing these life sketches, I had uncovered several stories that I didn’t know before I started the process. No one is alive to tell me these stories, just records we encounter during our early years of research (vital records, census documents, and city directories).

Here is a sampling of stories I uncovered during this process:

1. Great Grandpa’s Family Shrinks between 1900-1901

My Great Grandfather Sherman Lewis Brown lost several relatives in a 16-month span. His father died on 14 January 1900, his married sister Eliza Jane (Brown) Ranck died on 27 October 1900. His mother, Martha (Gordon) Brown, died on 9 April 1901.

At the time of his father’s death, Sherman was 32 and married to Emma Virginia Townsend. They had one son Eugene Curtis Brown. The couple then had a daughter named Edna Irene Brown (their only daughter), born on 14 December 1900. Sadly, little Edna died three days before her Grandma Brown on 6 April 1901.

How difficult it must have been Sherman to lose his parents, a sibling, and a daughter in such a short time period! Sherman and Emma’s sons Eugene and Samuel (born in 1902) would only have one living grandparent: Mary (Clabaugh) Townsend.

Brown Family Bible: Edna Irean's death

Brown Family Bible: highlighting Edna Irene’s death

2. William and Mary Townsend may have an illegitimate child

Here’s a paragraph of discovery about my Civil War ancestor, William James Townsend.

A 22-year-old nearly blind man with no parents to return home to [from the Civil War] would certainly consider himself fortunate to find a woman willing to marry him. Three months after his discharge, Mary Claybaugh, aged 18, did consent to marry William on 10 November 1864.

They were married in a civil ceremony by a probate judge. In evaluating the birth date of their first child, Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, Mary would have been pregnant at the time of their ceremony. It’s possible that William and Mary knew each other before leaving with Company K and that Mary learned she was pregnant while he was away.

Upon returning, they would have made quick plans to marry and find a home before their daughter was born on 15 January 1865 in Hamilton, Franklin, Ohio.

Mind you, I don’t want to defame my great-grandparents, but it’s not uncommon for such things to have occurred. Add this to a question I have for Great Grandpa when we meet on the other side of this life.

3. Andrew Nelson’s Smith mother died, and he soon had a step-mother.

Here’s another story that did not become clear from the pedigree charts until I started writing events in story form:

Andrew Nelson Smith was born on 4 October 1855 in Central College, Ohio, to Leon Philip Smith and Catherine Dague. The county for this town is uncertain. They had previously lost a daughter two years before. Andrew’s birth would have been a great joy to his parents. Three years later, his brother Charles Allen Smith was born in August 1858 in Blendon, Franklin County, Ohio.

Six months later, Andrew’s mother Catherine would die at the age of 27. This must have been a strange turn of events for three-year-old Andrew to see his mother buried. He may not have understood what was happening, but he would know that someone who cared for him was no longer around.

Four months later, Andrew’s 25-year-old father would marry 24-year-old Mary E Smith in June 1859 in Amlin, Franklin County. Mary (Smith) Smith would assume the care of her three-year-old and 10-month-old step-sons.

Andrew’s father was 21, and his mother was 23 at the time of his birth.

I do wonder what Andrew might have remembered about his own mother. Many people do not remember a mother who died when they were so young. However, his step-mother Mary (whose maiden name was also Smith) may have been the only woman Andrew really ever knew in that role, most certainly for his brother Charles.

Smith family plot in Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio

Smith family plot. No stone for Andrew’s father, but a large one (right, cut off) for his step-mother. Andrew and other half-siblings are buried in this plot.

4. The Fickles and Browns might be further related

This excerpt is from the essay about Jane Fickle. It might be difficult to grasp the full context, but suffice it to say that Samuel Brown (father of Sherman mentioned in #1) may be related to his Grandma Jane Fickle’s family in another context.

At the age of 42, Jane (Fickle) Gordon should have witnessed her second eldest daughter Martha Gordon's marriage to Samuel Brown in October 1846 in Hocking County, Ohio. Martha was 19 years of age and Samuel 25. A research mystery involves whether her daughter’s husband Samuel and her sister Mary Ann Fickle’s husband, William Brown, are related.

Records showed that both Samuel and William Brown from Baltimore, Maryland. William was born in 1815 and Samuel in 1821. They both married related women (aunt/niece, but ‘cousins’ by age- Martha 19 and Mary Ann 22) from the same county. The relationship of the Brown men is currently unresolved, though plausible.

So, if you can decipher the paragraph, which is understood better in Jane Fickle’s essay's overall context, you can see where I’m thinking I found a brother for my Samuel Brown (who is a brick wall for me!)

5. Thomas Clabaugh has some explaining to do

I don’t want to think poorly of the folks on my family tree, but a few things do not make much sense when I look at my 3rd Great Grandfather Thomas Clabaugh of Fairfield, Ohio. I hope you can follow this excerpt.

Thomas Clabaugh’s wife Polly (Nash) Clabaugh seemed to die in the 1840s, but the death date is in dispute. The gravestone in Dovel Memorial Cemetery in Pickerington, Ohio, is badly faded. One attempt at reading the stone places Polly’s death on 5 April 1848. This date is plausible but conflicts with Thomas's marriage to his second wife, Abigail Bonnell, on 13 February 1848. With Polly’s last known child’s birth in September 1846 and the difficulty reading the faded stone, it’s quite likely Polly died in April 1847 when her youngest daughter was 7 months old.

I can not determine where Thomas and his new wife Abigail are living in 1850. What I can conclude is that their household would be greatly reduced. His 19-year-old daughter Fidelia married John Hamilton on 29 January 1850 in Franklin County, Ohio. In May, his daughter Julia, 18, married John Cartzdafner in Columbus, Ohio. It seems that his children Thomas, 13, and Martha, 10, live in the Duval family home. According to family stories, the Duvals raised Thomas and Martha after Polly’s death. Meanwhile, Thomas’s oldest son Wesley, 20, lived in the Feasel home (the family of his future third wife).

Those who could still be in Thomas’ home are himself, his wife Abigail, and children Harrison, Nicholas, Burgess, and Mary. To date, these Clabaughs have not been in the 1850 Census, which leads to more questions.

In the family history, I wanted to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt and conjecture that the death date was 1847. This would prevent a shameful situation if he marries Abigail and his first wife dies two months after their wedding. However, if he did indeed marry Abigail before his first wife died, that could explain why his children Thomas and Martha are with the Duval family rather than with Thomas and Abigail.

In 1850, Thomas’ children Harrison would be 15, Nicholas 10, Burgess 8, and Mary 4. Where could they be? Are they also living with other families while he and Abigail go somewhere else? Or, is there a poor transcription that I have yet to uncover that keeps things more innocent?

It’s Easier Than You Think

These stories and questions have developed since I took the time to write the stories about my mother’s line, more specifically, the line for her maiden name. Her maternal line has a lot of great documentation in the form of written histories and such that I’m finally compiling with discoveries similar to those listed above. I’ve also uncovered similar stories on my father’s lines.

For more Family History Writing Inspiration:

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