Follow Up Friday: Even Ancestors Had Their Senior Moments

A couple of weeks ago I posted a bit of my family’s story, which explored the  life of John Pearson Minor between the time he was a child of the Western Pennsylvania frontier and the time he became Pearson Minor, husband, father and Garard’s Fort community leader.  In particular I wanted to know more about this ancestor’s military service during the War of 1812.  Among the Minor documents in my possession is the 1871 Pension notification for Pearson, a corporal in Captain Seeley’s regiment.  My request for a copy of this pension file was quickly filled by the folks at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Honestly, I had hoped for a few details that could fill out the sketchy family lore, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As I pored over the contents, I sighed with delight; then I sucked in my breath and held it for as long as it took to read this genea-bomb.

War of 1812

DECLARATION OF SOLDIER FOR PENSION

to be executed before Judge or Clerk of Court

 

State of Pennsylvania

County of Greene

On this twenty sixth day of June , AD one thousand eight hundred and seventy one, personally appeared before me, H. H. Lindsey, Clerk of the Court of Common Please, a Court of Record within and for the county and State aforesaid, Pearson Minor aged seventy nine years, a resident of Greene Township , County of Greene State of Pennsylvania, who, being duly sworn according to law, declares that he is married; that his wife’s name was Isabella McClelland, to whom he was married at Greene Township, Greene Co. PA , on the 25 day of September, 1813. . . . . . . . .

WHAT? 

Shaking my head, I read this statement again.  And again.

I have spent little time pondering John Pearson’s married life; the details have just been very hard to obtain.  I rolled along, telling the story of his life with the information others had gathered before me, including the family register held at the Thomas Minor Society and family trees from Ancestry.com.  All of these sources listed two wives for John Pearson, one Hannah McClelland who died in 1817 shortly after the birth of the second son, Robert, and an Isabella McClelland, whom he married in 1817 and with whom he had nine children. This 1871 document, completed with the sworn testimony of the John Pearson Minor, left me doubting my assumptions, and the sources I have trusted for the past three years.

BACK TO THE BASICS

The woman who is known in my family documents as Isabella McClelland Minor is often listed in family trees and registers as Huldah Isabella McClelland Minor.  I have no primary source to offer an explanation for the first name.  With this new genea-bomb I have had to wonder if  Huldah was Hannah, poorly transcribed, making Hannah and Isabella McClelland but one person.  But how did folks ever think that John Pearson had two wives?  What records might exist to put this to rest once and for all?  And if there were two McClelland girls who married John Pearson Minor, how were they related?

I started my triangulation of the truth with a pretty thorough, and fruitless, search for primary source documentation on the family trees and registers that I have gathered. I then returned to the documents within my possession, with greater success.

CLUES TO THE TRUTH

I assembled all the original and photocopied primary sources within my possession that contained the surname McClelland.  This collection included:

  •  An 1823 deed conveying title from Robert McClelland and wife, Isabella, to John P. Minor for a piece of the land patented to Robert McClelland in 1793 and 1794 from Stephen Davis.  This document provides a hint that Isabella was a family name.
  • An announcement from the Orphans Court of Greene County that all stakeholders in the estate of Robert McClelland, deceased, should appear in June 1834.
  • An undated document indicating that John Pearson had purchased the remainder of the McClelland Farm and needed to straighten out how payment was to be finalized.
  • An 1835 deed conveying title from Cephas McClelland to John Pearson for land patented to Robert McClelland from Stephen Davis in 1793 and 1794.  This deed established that Robert was the father of Cephas, and, with the phrase “the land is defended from all claims except those from Abia and Robert Minor, and (John Pearson’s) present wife”, indicated that Cephas and Isabella were brother and sister, and sibling to the mother of Abia and Robert.
  • An 1855 deed in which John and Isabella Minor conveyed title to land in Harrison County, (West) Virginia to the two oldest children, Abia and Robert; and for which payment was to include land,in lieu of cash, in Greene County, Pennsylvania that the boys had inherited from Robert McClelland.
  • Abia Minor, son of John Pearson Minor, married Harriet Ballard in 1855 after his first wife, Elizabeth Thompson, died in 1853.  This Harrison County, West Virginia marriage record states that Abia’s father was John P. and his mother was Hannah.
  • Francis Marion, oldest son of John Pearson and Isabella Minor, and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor’s family bible bears this inscription:  Isabella McClelland, second wife of John P. Minor,  was born on the thirtieth day of September 1792.
  • A recent Glade Cemetery index, Carmicheals, Pennsylvania,submitted online by the D.A.R. Chapter of Greene County, includes the inscription for one Hannah Minor, first wife of John P, who died at age twenty two, 28 April 1817.
  •  Howard Leckey’s highly regarded history of Greene County pioneer families, Ten Mile Country and its Pioneer Families,  lists Cephas and Isabella as the children of Robert McClelland and wife unknown.

ASSEMBLING THE EVIDENCE

By pulling threads from all of these sources, I can weave today the following conclusion:  John Pearson Minor was married on September 25, 1813 to Hannah McClelland, who bore two sons – Abia and Robert – before dying on April 28, 1817.  John Pearson Minor then married Hannah’s sister, Isabella McClelland in the fall of 1817.  The couple had another nine children, together.

It would seem then that seventy-nine year old John Pearson Minor was a bit fuzzy with his family history on that summer day in 1871, evidence that even ancestors had senior moments.

OTHER INTERESTING TRUTHS

As is often the case, genea-sleuthing leads family historians to unexpected places.  As I gathered evidence for the existence and identity of two wives, I also wove a record of John Pearson and Isabella Minor purchasing the McClelland Farm bit by bit over the course of their lives, from Robert; his son, Cephas; and his grandsons, Abia and Robert.  Or looked at from another perspective, Isabella McClelland Minor bought her homeplace from her father, her brother and her nephews.

As it turns out the adjacent farm belonged to Jacob Myers, and John Pearson Minor purchased that farm in 1828, refurbishing the solid brick home for his family in 1831.  Their eleven children grew up running through the hills of Isabella’s childhood. The McClelland Farm was given to Pearson and Isabella’s youngest son, Samuel.  And that brick house on the Myers Farm – that was the same home in which John Pearson resided as a widower; the same home in which Francis and Mary Jane raised their family; and their son, Robert, raised his Helen and Donald; and the same brick home in which Donald raised my mom and her siblings.

.. . . . . his wife’s name was Isabella McClelland, to whom he was married at Greene Township, Greene Co. PA , on the 25 day of September, 1813. . . . 

How grateful I am for John Pearson’s senior moment!

 

Follow Up Friday: how did these little piggies get to market?

Project 150: It’s 1861. Farm On.

Project 150 is a series of Civil War posts that, taken together, will tell the story of my family’s life choices during the years of rebellion.  Sources used for today’s post include privately held family documents, a Wiki article on the election and the Federal 1860 census accessed at ancestry.com.

My great-great-grandparents, F. Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor, woke up each day of 1861 inside a farmhouse on Ceylon Lane.  Each night they tucked their three children, John (age 9), Olfred (age 6) and Sarah (age 3), into bed.  When they attended Goshen Baptist Church in the nearby village of Garard’s Fort, Marion and Mary Jane drove past brother Samuel Minor‘s family home.   Driving to the nearest town, Carmichaels, took the couple past the homes of Marion’s parents, John P. and Isabella McClelland Minor, and his sister, Isabella Minor and Hugh Keenan.  The families were four of the ninety-eight that called Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania home.

Within its sixteen square miles, the township had 134 women housekeeping and keeping all that was in the house – the stories, the children, the meals, the cleaning, the mending, the tending, the healing.  The hills also sheltered 105 farmers and day laborers, 5 shoemakers, 4 carpenters,3 merchants, 2 clerks, 3 seamstresses, 2 millers, 2 stonemasons, 2 stonecutters, 2 washerwomen, a shinglemaker, a chairmaker, a cattle drover, a physician, a blacksmith, and a coal miner.  All but two families were white, and all but twelve residents were born in Pennsylvania.  Most everyone could read and write.  The township’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of the merchants and three farming families: the Lantzes, the Gerards and the clan of John P. and Isabella Minor.  

John Pierson (Pearson) subscribed to the Waynesburg Messenger,  an instrument of the Democratic Party.  Shared among the extended family, the pages were no doubt well thumbed; the articles frequent sources of conversation and debate. Greene County voters had handed the county to the pro-slavery Southern Democrat, John C. Breckinridge, in the 1860 election.  

As the country staggered toward dissolution in 1861, Marion bought twelve head of cattle from Philip Wolf for $140, and another three for $25.  A bit later he purchased one from John Ramer for $24.20. As Abraham Lincoln settled into the White House, F. Marion bought ten more head at $60.  

Throughout the summer of 1861, as volunteers formed companies and regiments and brigades, the Minors of Ceylon Lane farmed on.  Walnut and oak trees were felled for logs, planks and rafters; stable flooring, joists, and sills.  Stables were built, homes repaired; livestock bought, fed and sold.  Into the fall the family farmed.   John P. purchased 50 bushels of coal for $5.  John P. Junior and Olfred probably climbed the hill to the family schoolhouse when they could, and climbed trees to shake out nuts when they were asked. 

As the days folded into long nights, the Minor business of tending children and raising cattle continued to thrive. 

December the 24th 1861

This is to certify that I, Elias Slocum, waid for TB Martin and Dan Shore 42 hed of cattel sold to Pearson Minor the cattel was in a fair condition to when waid.  

                                    Elias Slocum, way master

On December 30, 1861 John P. Minor made one last entry in his business ledger:  Lindsey paid me $487.00.  

Farm on.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Serendipity Surrounds a Secret: Madness Monday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

Serendipity Surrounds a Secret

My mother’s family was a well-to-do farming clan – the Minors of Greene County.  Cattle and stock dealers for generations, the family groups had accumulated hundreds of acres of hilly land in southwestern Pennsylvania  by the turn of the twentieth century when the bituminous Pittsburgh coal vein prompted a speculative race. Around 1905 the rights to that black gold were sold, by some accounts for up to $600 per acre, and the Francis Marion Minor family was suddenly land AND cash rich.  In spite of the opportunities afforded the prosperous, my great-grandfather, Robert Minor, suffered from horrible headaches and melancholy, traveling throughout his life from health resort to health resort seeking relief .  I haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for his brooding.  Some secret lurks within family lore.  It hangs over other stories like the fog lingering over the Susquehanna River even as the rest of the Wyoming Valley clears to reveal its broad plain, mountain ridges and blue dome sky.

Last week I stepped away from the shroud to gain perspective, re-searching the family patriarch in case some new record or paper had been digitalized.

John P. Minor + cattle

Among the google-returned items was a newspaper article from 1908.  My great-great-great-grandfather Minor died in 1874.  But. . . . If an article catches my interest, I read first and judge relevance later.  Suddenly this unexpected detail poked through the family fog:

  • A quick review of the family register confirmed that THIS John P. Minor was the eldest brother of my great-grandfather, Robert Minor.  John Minor had married Elizabeth Garard, and they had one child, Ira, who died December 12, 1908.
  • A further newspaper search at the Library of Congress Chronicling America yielded multiple accounts of the bank’s failure in 1906 – and of this young man’s suicide.  Mr. Rinehart was convicted in January of 1909 for stealing funds from the bank and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
  • The postcards which document my great-grandfather’s descent into headaches and melancholy were postmarked 1910.
  • After rereading my Minor documents of that era, I am not convinced that the fortune mentioned in the article was that of John P. Minor alone, but perhaps that of the entire FM Minor clan.  Even so, the $500,000 dollars would have been the equivalent of $12,000,000 dollars in 2009. Losing half of that sum would have resulted in the family being worth “only” $6 million dollars, with the economic clout of someone with $131 million dollars in 2009.  *¹  Split among four families, that is still a grand fortune, by my book.

Did the Minor family have a predisposition to brooding, melancholy, headaches, and other “nervous ailments” and was my great-grandfather’s depression caused by this bank failure or by the family crisis that came in its wake?  Why did Robert Minor continue to suffer?  And what ever happened to all of that money?

Perhaps I will never really know the true nature of the secret, or be privy to the knowledge that hurt this family so deeply.  This genealogical serendipity surrounds my secret, however, helping to define its edges and contain its outline.  At the very least, I know that there really was a family fortune, that there really was family tragedy and that at least some members of the family – like Robert Minor – had difficulty coping.

The secret is by my side now, not lurking in a corner driving me mad.

*¹ The website Measuring Worth is extremely helpful in calculating the relative worth of the U. S. Dollar, from 1774- the present.

Mapping My Ancestors: Where’s Donald?

Accessed from MyTopo: Historical Topographical Maps, July 25, 2011

In 1904, the year this topographical map was drawn, my grandfather Minor, Donald Corbly Minor, was a two year toddler living on the family farm on Ceylon Lane, a tiny road leading out of Whitely, Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Today it remains a tiny road, gravel and oiled to keep the dust down.  I pass by the old farm house, and remember the trips we made out to these hills when I was just shoulder high to my mom.  We walked through cow-nibbled grasses, hunted for old trash pits among the trees, dug up jars to be treasured back home.  Topo maps are small snags of information that reflect the part of a community that changes least, its topography.  Granddaddy’s hills and streams will remain when the farm’s foundations support vines instead of walls.