Month: January 2021

Louisa Jane Orr

I was named after my father Donald Frederick Malter. I could tell you about my father, but it might comprise a book, and its last page is far from written.

My middle name is Louise. As I ponndering the prompt, “Namesake,” I realized how little I knew about my namesake Aunt Louise, except that she was the elder sister of my great-grandmother Adra Olive Orr Johnson, after whom my mother Olive is named.

A little research revealed that she was, in fact, named Louisa Jane Craven, nee Orr, that she died in 1962 in Kansas City, that she was divorced, and that she was a retired bank teller. It was a start. What is a life, really, after you’re gone, but the memories of those who shared an overlapping fragment of your moment in time? So many deceased ancestors no longer exist in the shadow of  memory, immortalized only in digitized text and maybe a photo with their names lovingly scrawled on the back. I am fortunately to have living relatives who remember my Aunt Jane, and I was able to call them for more information.

Louisa (loo-EYE-zah) Jane Orr was born on January 12, 1886, in Bevier, Missouri, the daugher of Attison (or Addison) Milton Orr and Katherine Olive (“Kate) Metcalf.

Although she may not have known it, Louisa came from a lofty family line: through her paternal line, she was descended from Christopher Branch Jr., who was also the great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, making her a 4th cousin twice removed of my favorite Founding Father.

Louisa was even royalty. Through her maternal line, her 7th great-grandfather Robert Abell immigrated from Derby, England, to Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1630. Robert Abell is a “gateway ancestor,”  the alphabetical first in a list of early American immigrants whose line of ascendancy can be documented back to Charlemagne. Charlemagne, Charles I, was the King of the Franks from 768, the King of the Lombards from 774, and the Emperor of the Romans from 800. During the Early Middle Ages, he united the majority of western and central Europe. He was the first recognised emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire around three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state that Charlemagne founded is called the Carolingian Empire. He was later canonised by Antipope Paschal III. (As exciting as that sounds, it is estimated that nearly three-fourths of Americans who can trace their lineage to Colonial descent are also descended from Charlmagne. Dude was prolific! See also “Am I Related to Royalty?”)

But that’s all a far cry from Greentop, Missouri.  Louisa’s maternal great-grandfather Uri Sr. had moved from Massachusetts to Ohio to Indiana (where he was the first blacksmith in Marshall, Indiana, in 1820) to Illinois to Iowa, following land grants. Uri Sr. had been President of the Illinois Abolitionist Party. At age 72, he enlisted to fight for the Union against slavery, and he died ten days later of a stroke while training in Indianapolis.

Louisa’s father, Attison Milton Orr had come to Greentop between 1860 and 1870. He was a farmer, married to Katherine Olive Metcalf on December 24, 1879 at her parents home.  Attison and Kate had their first child, Andrew, in 1880, followed by Lilia, Louisa and finally, ten years later, my great-grandmother Adra Olive Orr Johnson. There were other babies, at least four, who died as infants.

Louisa’s namesake was her paternal grandmother, Louisa Fleenor, who had come to Missouri from an esteemed (and prolific) Virginia family, and married John Williamson Orr.

In 1903, Louisa’s 21 year-old eldest sister Lilia died, allegedly from a flu epidemic, although I can’t find any reference to an epidemic that year.

                                                         

Louisa graduated from Bevier High School in 1904. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Camden, Missouri, where her father was employed as a carpenter.  Camden, according to The History of Ray County, Mo., was “situated on the north bank of the Missouri river, on the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway, five miles west of Richmond and Lexington Junction, and six miles southwest of Richmond, was incorporated in May, 1838.”  In 1910, Camden had eight stores, two hotels, two school houses, one church — owned and used by all denominations — and one large flouring mill.

In 1911, on December 23, and at the age of 25, Louisa married Edwin Cravens in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri.  His draft registration card lists him as tall, blond and blue-eyed, which makes sense because my Aunt Louisa was a tall woman herself, nearly 5’10”. She was an expert milliner and seamstress, probably because if she wanted lovely clothes, she had to sew them herself.

Two years later their daughter Margery was born.

Camden had a coal mine, where my Aunt Louisa took work as a bookkeeper, managing the company store. Here, she met the handsome and affable Swedish coal miner Olie Johnson, my great-grandfather, who married Louisa’s little sister,  my great-grandmother Adra Olive, on December 23, 1916.  My grandmother Beverly came along in 1917, and her brother Andrew in 1921.

By 1920, Louisa and Margery were living with her parents in Camden, while Edwin had gone to Kansas City to work as a lineman and was living in a boardinghouse. They are still listed on the census as married.

The company store existed on the bluffs of the Missouri River and became somewhat a family gathering spot. I remember my grandmother telling me that she’s learned to drive in the truck owned by the coal mine, and that she made deliveries for the company store as soon as she could reach the pedals. The Missouri River was a major means of transport and recreation, then as now. My Uncle Andrew recalled seeing the vaudeville comedian Red Skelton floating down in a riverboat past the company store, which inspired him and my grandmother to put together their own vaudeville act in their teens. Aunt Jane had enough money to purchase a piano and lessons for her daughter Margery. Margery then taught my Uncle Andrew, eight years her junior, everything she had learned. Uncle Andrew was a dear man, and a talented (and committed) piano player his entire life.

The depression hit Camden hard, as manufacturing and coal mining virtually ceased. The family was so poor that they couldn’t afford feed for their chickens, but they were more fortunate than most, as a family benefactor from Indiana sent them money for food. Louisa’s mother Kate Orr died in 1932, followed by her father Attison in 1939.

 

Sometime in the mid-1930s, Louisa and Margery moved to Kansas City to live with Edwin, where they rented a house on East 31st Street. Edwin worked for Ford Motor Company and Louisa got a job with the Federal Reserve. They must have been doing reasonably well as the rest of the nation recovered from the depression.

Early in the 1940s, my grandfather took a job with Butler Manufacturing in Kansas City, and moved from Camden into the Wells Apartment, which my Grandma Adra managed. Aunt Jane left her husband Edwin and moved into an apartment in the Wells, from where she could easily walk to her job at the Federal Reserve.  I don’t know why they divorced, but I’m told that the women in my family have a habit of choosing bad partners and when they finally leave them, nobody ever talks about it. This is clearly another family trait that I inherited.

Although I’ve gone on and on, this is really where the story of my namesake begins, as this is the era of living, breathing memories. My mother remembers as a child around 1950, running back and forth between her grandparents’ apartment and her Aunt Jane’s down the hall.  One of her earliest memories was Aunt Jane making her first Rice Krispy treats in an 8X8 pan. Cousin Adra recalls a threadbare sofa where she slept in Olie and Adra’s apartment, and the Murphy bed in Aunt Jane’s smaller apartment where Aunt Jane slept. Aunt Jane taught her to sew clothes for her dolls, and took her to the Emery Bird department store and paid money to have her photo taken with the “real” Santa. She dressed beautifully and wore fancy hats that she made herself.

In 1952, at the age of 66, Aunt Jane filed for social security and likely had a comfortable pension from her time at the Federal Reserve. She stayed at the Wells Apartments until she could no longer walk up the stairs to her apartment. Around 1960 she moved to Armour Oaks Memorial, where she lived until her death on April 26, 1962 from respiratory failure. She is buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Kansas City.

I see myself in Aunt Jane. I’m tall like her, and I have her long face and nose, strong cheekbones with a square, masculine chin. I am independent, good at numbers, a single working mom. I’m proud to be her namesake, wish I’d known her but with thanks to those who shared their memories, I know much more than I did last week.

 

 

Grandparents 1850s style

 

Family Legend

I wish I had a unique legend but, like about half the genealogists I know, there is a Native American in the woodpile. A good number of people I know are flabbergasted to learn that they’ve been hoodwinked by family lore.

According to my mother, for as long as I can remember, my great-great-grandmother was alleged to be half Cherokee, a granddaughter of Pocahontas.

Her name was Lucy Green and she lived in Shawnee, Potawatomie, Oklahoma, and she ran a restaurant. And one of,her parents was a Cherokee. That’s all we knew.

I met my cousin Kim while hunting for Lucy Green. Kim had been adopted at birth and was using her DNA to find her biological family. Kim and I were connected in a Lucy Green circle on Ancestry, along with my mother, and one other person. I sent Kim a message and asked if she knew anything about Lucy Green. When she told me her story, it quickly became apparent that Kim knew less about Lucy Green than I did. We did figure out that we were third cousins: her great-grand grandfather Henry Doniphan Hewlett and my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Hewlett were siblings, born in Ray County, Missouri.

Kim and I started sharing what bits and pieces we’d discovered in our research. Although Lucy appeared on a lot of Ancestry trees — she had six children who survived to adulthood and each of whom also had numerous children — one of the Lucy Greens had verifiable ancestral lines. We believed that Lucy was born to Catherine (no last name) and Erasmus “E.H.” Green in Mercer County, Kentucky.

Kim and I lived closed to each other and decided to meet at the Midwest Genealogical Center in Independence Missouri. The Genealogical Center is the nation’s largest public genealogy library. I had never been there before — or to any genealogy lilbrary — but Kim was an old pro.

We started looking at marriage records in Mercer County, Kentucky, and fairly quickly found one Catherine Moore’s marriage to Erasmus Green, signed by Sarah Moore. We also found her sister’s marriage record within the same time frame. And we discovered that her father, John Moore, had died shortly before her marriage. But about John, we knew nothing. Was he an American Indian? Kim didn’t think so, and I was becoming more skeptical by the minute.

My mother had always told me that the family lineage to Pocahontas was contained in a family history book written by Jean Hamacher and contained in the Ray County History Museum. Of course that was our next trip. We also had information that Erasmus had been a founder of the First Baptist Church in Bethel, Missouri.

I’d been to the Museum previously with my mother but the library had been closed that day. Kim and I dug into the stacks and found a bound book authored by Mrs. Hamacher. The book was actually about the Hewlett family that Lucy had married into.There, in one small paragraph, it said “Family legend says that Lucy’s father, Erasmus Green, was descended from the Cherokee tribe, but this author has found no evidence of that statement.”

Wait, THAT was the incontrovertible evidence to which my mother had referred? It was … nothing.

The day turned out to be fantastic nonetheless. We made a trip to the Courthouse and dug through the real estate records to see where Erasmus and Catherine had lived. We found the original land grant, and a number of transfers to Erasmus and later his children. We found Erasmus’s Last Will and Testament, unlikely to have been touched since he died in 1890. (His estate was worth a little less than $7.) The County Assessor looked at a little hand-drawn map we had and used images from Google Earth to identify the tract. We drove outside town and found Erasmus’s farm, with a barn that looked like it had existed in Erasmus’s time. The property was surrounded by overgrown trees and cluttered with rusted old trucks. It didn’t look like a friendly place, but it was where we began.

One day on Ancestry, I ran across a tree that said Catherine’s father was John Moore, born in Maryland. This information was different than anything I’d ever seen before. I contacted the user and the floodgates opened. She had actually been to Mercer County, Kentucky and had unearthed the mysterious John Moore.She provided me with his Revolutionary War pension record. John was a revolutionary war soldier who had been captured by the Indians, and kept captive for three years. John Moore knew the native language because he’d been constantly threatened with Indian attack growing up on the frontier in Maryland. During his captivity, John was tasked with serving as an interpretor between the Natives and the British. He he arrived in Harrodsburg with his father, Simeon Moore, and Daniel Boone. Simeon’s sister had been married to James Harrod. John’s ancestry? Not Native American.

I’m still working on Erasmus. He’s my brick wall. His father, John Green, was raised in Culpeper, Virginia. At the time of his birth, there were no fewer than twelve “John Green”s in Virginia, and mine doesn’t fit into any of the known family trees, But it’s fairly safe to assume that John Green was somehow related to the Duff Greens who immigrated from Scotland in the late 1600s.

My mother refuses to trust my research. Her Aunt told her we were Cherokee, and by golly, we’re Cherokee. I have another cousin who visited our Oklahoma ancestors in the late 1960s, and she swears they were living on the reservation. I can’t hold anything against Elizabeth Warren. She had no reason to disbelieve her family lore either.

Whenever I make a genealogy trip, my mother’s first question is always “Did you find the Indian?” I sent her this photograph from the Kentucky Museum of History. It’s the closest I’ve come.

 

Continue to Part 2. Pocahontas.

 

Beginnings

Not that long ago, I believed with all of my being that my heritage was German, Swedish and French, and that my great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess descended from Pocahontas. When my son, who rarely displays an interest in anything besides video games, said he’d like to take a DNA test, I agreed. Always good to encourage the kiddo’s interest, and his father’s Baltic and Native American roots were likely to be much more interesting than mine.

So we all took swabs — Caleb, my parents and I — and waited for the results.

A few weeks later, my beliefs crumbled. I’m British? I’m not Native American? This couldn’t be right! This test must be a joke. (Caleb’s results came back largely as expected, although he didn’t have any Native American in his admixture either.)

 

Ancestry Story
Latest Ancestry.com admixture

 

Determined to prove that I knew more than a silly blood test, I signed up for a trial of Ancestry.

Three days and 72 sleepless hours later, I had close to a thousand people in my tree. I was descended from Kings and Queens! I am ROYALTY! I hadn’t yet learned about source documentation, and didn’t know that other trees were often inaccurate. I cut and pasted and connected and found out that what I thought I was didn’t matter at all because what I am is REALLY important.  My German and Swedish ancestry (which did show up in my admixture) was a “brick walls,” a term I quickly learned and rue to this day.

As it turned out, much of that original research was incorrect, and several years later, I’m still finding my own errors.

But what do you know? I’m western European, mostly British. I really am. The vast majority of my ancestors immigrated to the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries. I’d heard my mother speak of theTrigg family, and it quickly showed up in my tree. A US Congressman? A friend of Thomas Jefferson? She never told me that! My maternal grandmother’s family were early Dutch settlers of New York, the Wynkoops (she always told me she had no idea where her family came from). My paternal grandfather’s family was indeed German, immigrated in the mid-1800s, but all records stopped on this side of the pond. Similar with my Swedish great-great-grandfather, whose census records variously claim he came over in 1852 or 1849, and that his name was Johnson or Johansson or Swanson or Svensson. The lesson there — I had believed in the heritage of my most recent immigrants, whose heritage was known. But once the veil was lifted, there was far more British and Irish than I would ever have believed had I not discovered it myself. Notable is that I have only two immigrant ancestors who arrived after 1800. While not exactly a blueblood, my family has its roots in colonial America, I’m largely a Virginian, and daughter of the American Revolution at least a dozen times over.

As for the Native American, my mother to this day tells people she is descended from Cherokee royalty. But it’s just not there.

Many years later, genealogy has become my passion. I’ve travelled the US seeking information in dusty courthouses and remote genealogy rooms. I’ve made one the best friends of my life; and, yes, she’s a cousin. It doesn’t matter where I came from, but rather what I came from. I’m a Southerner, and a Quaker, and a compilation of all those who preceded me. I am uniquely me because of them. So many family traditions make sense to me now. They didn’t appear in isolation; they came from where WE came from.

And I can still spend three sleepless days at my computer seeking out more information about my family.

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