24 March 2014

#12--52 Ancestors: Nancy Pruitt Hensley

#12 52 Ancestors

Nancy Catherine Pruitt Hensley (ca 1850-1871)

Cats are not the only creatures consumed by curiosity. We genealogists often find our inquisitiveness leading us down strange winding paths in the endless quest to learn more about an ancestor. How else can I explain why I spent more hours than I care to confess trying to determine how and why one of my Georgia-born ancestors wound up in a dugout near a river on the Kansas prairie?

Kansas Dugout
The latest search didn’t begin that way. I began looking again for the burial place of my grandmother’s favorite brother. He died in Indian Territory — of snake bite — if memory of the story grandmother told me is accurate. I narrowed the time frame to 1894-1900 and the locality to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. I checked old notes and files and re-examined the cemetery records where the rest of the family was buried. Nothing.

Perhaps he went back to Alabama or Georgia (where his parents and grandparents had lived prior to family’s removal to Indian Territory) and died back there. And, so began the backward tracking that took me to a dugout in Kansas and then to Alabama and finally back to where I had started.

Lee R. Hensley (also rendered as R. Lee) was the older half-brother of my grandmother and she adored him — even named her first-born for him. They had the same father, but Lee’s mother died between 1869 (birth of her second son, William) and 1872 — the date of his father’s second marriage.

Because Lee’s father’s name [Marion] was misread in the 1870 census, it took dogged determination to find them. Francis Marion Hensley [called Marion] and Nancy Catherine Pruitt were from Cherokee County, Georgia. They had married there soon after the Civil War. She was only about 16 years old. I had no reason to look for them in Kansas in 1870, but that’s where they show up. I found them near her Pruitt family, and his sister, Minerva Hensley, and her husband, William John Evans. What were those Georgians doing in Lincoln County, Kansas?

Thank goodness for other family historians who are willing to share. An online tree led me to some oral histories of this Pruitt family, which say that Samuel Pruitt and his wife Elizabeth (Merk) left Cherokee County, Georgia, in the spring of 1870 with other fellow Georgians and travelled by train to Kansas. That must have been some trip — from Georgia to Tennessee and then to Missouri and finally to Kansas.


“Sam Pruitt, like many other Southerners of the post-Civil War period, probably found life uncertain and hard. Thus, when promoters came to northern Georgia singing the praises of new farm lands in Kansas, many people including the Samuel J. Pruitt family decided to migrate. Enough people were involved so that an emigrant train was formed . . . After traveling by train from Georgia to Kansas, a trip of many days, they probably disembarked at the town of Solomon, Kansas, then called Solomon City. The railroad continued on west to Colorado, but there were no branch lines northwest to Lindsey or Minneapolis in Ottawa County, Kansas. There was a stage that ran from Solomon to Beloit and made an overnight stop at Lindsey. This could have been the family’s mode of transportation, but more likely Sam purchased a wagon and team, loaded their possessions and made their way along the Solomon River to Lindsey with other emigrants,” according to one Pruitt family story.


Another version: “When the Samuel J. Pruitt family moved to Kansas in 1870, Nancy Hensley, their married daughter, her husband [Francis Marion Hensley], and their two children accompanied them. The Pruitts lived in a dugout on the banks of the Solomon River. In 1870 this must have been near the town of Lindsey in Concord Township. Since most settlers lived in dugouts it is probable that the Hensleys did, too. Sometime after the families settled in Ottawa County, Nancy and one of her children [William, born in 1869] died of a fever. After Nancy's death her husband, Francis Marion Hensley, and the other son [Lee] disappeared.”


Another version of the story says that “Nancy and Francis Hensley had two boys, R. Lee and William. Nancy and the younger boy died of typhoid shortly after settling in Kansas. Francis took the remaining boy and left without ever saying ‘Goodbye’ to anyone.


Where the Pruitt’s oral family history ends, mine takes up — thanks to my grandmother, the half-sister of Lee Hensley. Francis Marion Hensley and his sister, Minerva Hensley Evans, and her family left Kansas and went to Etowah County, Alabama where their parents and some of their brothers had moved to from their Cherokee County, Georgia home. If Francis Marion Hensley left Kansas without saying “goodbye” to his in-laws, it was not mentioned in our family tales.


In Alabama Francis Marion Hensley met the dark and feisty Araminta Awtrey. They married, over her parents’ objections (because he had been married previously and already had a son). Why this was an obstacle was never clear to me, but regardless, they married on 31 March 1872 in Saint Clair County, Alabama and spent 51 years together. In 1894 they and several of Francis Marion Hensley’s brothers made another long trip. This time to Indian Territory, bringing my grandmother and her beloved half-brother, Lee.


I still haven’t found Lee Hensley’s final resting place. However, now I know when, why and how his parents went to Kansas. If I follow enough of these cookie crumb trails maybe I’ll find it someday.



If you desire sources and genealogical information, please contact me. I am happy to provide and share. myravgormley@gmail.com


18 March 2014

#11 52 Ancestors: Elizabeth Connally Fricks

#11 52 Ancestors
Elizabeth Connally Fricks (1849-1932)

Two of my great-grandmothers I always felt I “knew” even though they both died before I was born. That’s because they were grandmothers of my mother, who actually knew them and talked about them to me, and so a close link was established — at least in my memory. Theirs were among the first graves I visited and placed flowers on at our family’s annual Decoration Day outing.

While my mother knew both of her grandmothers, her maternal grandmother — Araminta Awtrey Hensley — died when she was only seven years old, but her paternal grandmother — Elizabeth “Lizzie” Connally Fricks actually lived with her and her parents until she was 12. Naturally, mother had a better memory of that grandmother — the quiet “Southern Lady” as Mom remembered her. She was the one who intrigued me because of her beautiful needlework and because she was born near Atlanta, Georgia. She was actually there when General Sherman and his Union Army came marching through.

One of my aunts took me to see Gone with the Wind when I was quite young and I never forgot it. Years later, I would read the book. Realizing early on that I had had family participating in the Civil War (on both sides) is probably what whetted my keen interest in that era of American history.

At the time of the 1860 federal census, Lizzie is living with her father, “Big Charles” Connally and her stepmother, Margaret (also a Connally) and three half brothers, Theodore, William and Edward in Stone’s District, Fulton County, Georgia. They would have been among the thousands who evacuated Atlanta in 1864.

Evidently they never returned because in 1870 and later, they are found in and around Walker and Dade counties. Lizzie married Napoleon Fricks in 1866 and they remained in Georgia until 1891 when they removed to the Creek Nation of Indian Territory, where their youngest child, my grandaunt Dora Fricks Buffington was born.

Dora Fricks (right) Ora Christian (left)
ca 1910

I have the military and political history of this event and a great deal of the Connally and Fricks genealogy, but what I want is of course, what I don’t have — great-granny’s eye-witness account of the Battle of Atlanta. Why didn’t she keep a journal of those events? She was 15 years old and should have been recording history. Didn’t she realize that someday she’d have a great-granddaughter who would be fascinated by U.S. history and genealogy and want to know?

Elizabeth Connally Fricks

11 March 2014

#10 52 Ancestors: Rachel Vanderpool Beach

#10 52 Ancestors: Rachel Vanderpool Beach (1837-1902)

Reading between the Lines

19 July 1864

Spring Valley, Iowa


To: Rachel P. Beach


Dear Daughter,

Your kind favor is just received finding us all well except myself. I met with a misfortune a few minutes before I received your letter. I told you that I had taken a mill and was running it. My misfortune was a hole broke in the boiler and the steam covered me and scalded my arms, ankles and face, although not serious my body not being hurt. So that I hope in a few days to be able for business again.


You wanted to know how near I lived to transportation and that you could come to see me. I wish you would come. You can come to Chillicothe [Missouri] by railroad and then the hack runs 3 times a week from there to Princeton, 18 miles from here. Then you could get a conveyance to Pleasant Plains and then you are in four miles of me.

Rachel Vanderpool Beach ca 1864

I got the likeness you sent. The weather here dry and warm. General health, good. I just got a letter from James. He talks of bringing his wife up here to stay with me. I want you to come if you can.

Signed: Wm. Vanderpool[1]

This Civil War-era letter reveals much but, it only tells a part of the story of this family’s involvement and what all was going on.

Rachel Vanderpool was the eldest daughter of William Vanderpool and Mary “Polly” Fuson, and obviously there was affection between father and daughter.  Rachel’s mother had died in 1849,[2] when she was about 12 years of age. Her father re-married shortly thereafter to Mahala Vanderpool[3], a kinswoman, and while there is no story or indication of any animosity between Rachel and Mahala, the stepmother was only seven years older than Rachel — and Mahala was younger than two of her older stepsons.

Rachel was not with her father and stepmother in the 1860 Kansas Territory census[4] when her father was working at Fort Riley. Rachel’s younger surviving sister, Artemissa (born about 1843), was not with them either, which has led to fruitless searches, so far, to find where William left these two daughters between 1851 and 1860. Rachel met her husband, Dr. Abijah Ives Beach, in the spring of 1860 in Kansas Territory,[5] evidently while her father was at Fort Riley. She married Dr. Beach in October 1860 in Junction City, Geary County, Kansas Territory.[6]


At the time of the letter, Rachel was a mother of two young children. Her husband was serving as an assistant surgeon in the 9th Kansas Cavalry somewhere in Kansas, Missouri or Arkansas during the Civil War. The picture is from a Daguerreotype, but where and exactly when it was taken is unknown. This might have been Rachel’s wedding dress, but we have no documentation.

The trip from Kansas to Iowa, as outlined by her father, is greatly simplified. The distance was about 350 miles and even today, with Freeways and fast cars, it would take more than 5.5 hours. In 1864, travelling by trains, hacks and conveyances it would have taken much longer and probably would not have been a pleasant trip with a couple of toddlers. She had no family nearby. Her oldest brother, Francis Marion Vanderpool, was in Oregon, having gone out on the Oregon Trail in 1852. Her brother, James [mentioned in the letter] was a captain in the Union Army and was trying to get his family and Union-sympathizing neighbors out of Confederate-held Arkansas. Her brother, John Anthony, was also serving in the Union forces in Missouri. Her younger brother, Daniel Boone, had disobeyed his father and joined the Union Army. He caught the measles and died in November 1862 at the age of 18.[7] Her two younger brothers were too young for military service and were with their father in Iowa. Where her sister, Artemisia, was is anyone’s guess.


Was Rachel afraid? Lonely? Apparently she was alone on the Kansas prairie in Beach Valley of what is now Rice County, Kansas, where the buffalo still roamed as did Indians and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Her husband and his father had pioneered the area establishing the Ranch at Cow Creek Crossing,[8] but in 1864 no one was there except Rachel and perhaps some hired help. No record has been found as to whether or not she went to Iowa in 1864. Dr. Beach was back home in Kansas in 1865 after the war was over. He, Rachel and their children remained there until sometime between 1875 and 1880 when they removed to Port Blakeley, Kitsap County, Washington.[9]

[1] Vanderpool Newsletter IV:1, p. 9. Letter in possession of Rachel’s granddaughter, Marion Damiano, of Turlock, California in 1977.
[2] Beach Family Bible, Bible and genealogical records of Abijah Beach, of Renton, Wash. The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, translated out of the original Greek and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty's Special Command. Printed at Clarendon Press by Samuel Collingwood and Co., printers to the university, 1830); owned in January 1987 by Marion Hall Damiano (1918-2011) of Turlock, California. [Hereafter Beach Bible and Records]
[3] Marriage Certificate issued by Office of Clerk of the Circuit Court and Ex-Officio Recorder, Sullivan County, Missouri, in Milan, Mo. Copy in possession of writer. William and Mahala married 3 September 1849. It was recorded 1 Oct. 1849.
[4] 1860 U.S. census. Davis County, Kansas Territory, population schedule, p. 818 (penned), dwelling 662, family 662, post office Fort Riley; Ancestry.com [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Images reproduced by Family Search. (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 March 2014) from National Archives microfilm M653, roll 347. Entry for Wm. Vanderpool, blacksmith, age 52; date of enumerator’s visit was 23 August 1860.
[5] Beach Bible and Records.
[6] Ibid.
[7] http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=49956518. Tombstone of Daniel Boone Vanderpool at Jefferson Barracks, National Cemetery, Oakville, Saint Louis County, Missouri.
[8] Barry, Louise. "The Ranch at Cow Creek Crossing." Kansas Historical Quarterly Winter 1972: 416-44.
[9] 1880 U.S. census. Kitsap County, Washington Territory, population schedule, Port Blakeley Precinct, Enumeration District [ED] 35, p. 315 [stamped], dwelling 43, family 44. A. J. Beach; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [database on-line], 2010. Family History Film: 1255397, Original data NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1397, p. 315C.

03 March 2014

#9 52 Ancestors: Blended Families

#9—52 Ancestors: Blended Families

Cynthia (Leavitt) Newton Gormley (1842-1929)

There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child — and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own.  — Robert Brault --  Quotes by Robert Bault    

Death touched the lives of our ancestors often in the 19th century. Diseases and accidents wiped out entire families and ravaged the ranks of many others. Few families escaped. Women especially seem to die early, often in childbirth, leaving several young children. The fathers then were faced with finding a wife — and quickly — to care for the little ones, run the household and toil at the enormous, never-ending chores necessary to feed, clean, clothe and nurse everyone while they labored in the fields and ran the farm. There was not much time to grieve the loss of a spouse or waste months in frivolous romantic pursuit.

Widows, especially those who lived in the agricultural regions of America in this time period, needed a husband to support them and their children for there were few alternatives for earning a livelihood available to them. No doubt such harsh necessities are responsible for the quick re-marriages of many of our ancestors and the frequent blending of families. This blending often complicates the genealogical research as we are confronted with numerous names to sort out and unclear relationships. Some family histories contain sad tales about mean stepmothers, abusive stepfathers, or uncaring foster parents. Among the family stories are sad chronicles of being left an orphan and sent to relatives who were less than kind, farmed out to neighbors, or put in orphanages and poor farms.

Any of these sad tales might have been the fate of Claude Pierson had not his path crossed Cynthia Gormley’s. This stepmother of three had no child of her own, but she had a heart as big as the Missouri prairie farmland where they lived. She took this orphaned boy when he was about two years old and gave him unconditional love for more than 40 years.

Caldwell County, Missouri
Crossing Paths. Matthew Gormley, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants to Jefferson County, New York, was a blacksmith who served during the Civil War. He wound up in Caldwell County, Missouri and in 1871 married Catherine Benson, who died about six years later. Matthew married secondly Jane Taft in 1877 in Caldwell County, Missouri. They had four children in about seven years and she died, evidently in childbirth with a fourth child who did not survive. Matthew was left with three young children. The family story goes that Cynthia Leavitt Newton, a childless widow, who lived nearby, saw that these children desperately needed a mother and even though she was of the Baptist faith, she decided to marry Matthew Gormley, a Roman Catholic, and take care of them. Matthew and Cynthia agreed to go their separate ways, religiously. They married 1 March 1885 in Hamilton, Caldwell County, Missouri.
Meanwhile not far away in that county, in July of 1887, another young mother in the tiny hamlet of Hopewell near Polo, died of typhoid, leaving four little sons, the youngest of whom was Claude V. Pierson.

Precisely how the lives of Claude Pierson and Cynthia (Leavitt) Newton Gormley became entwined, is not known, but it might have been via the Baptist Church. Cynthia, the eldest daughter of a Baptist minister, the Rev. William Ashley Leavitt, was born in Saint Lawrence County, New York in 1842. She did not marry until she was 40 years old and the marriage only lasted a few months. Married in October 1882, she became a widow in May 1883. Her brother, the Rev. Franklin J. Leavitt, also was a Baptist minister and had a long record of church, prison and welfare work. He served as chaplain of the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Some of the Piersons of Caldwell County also were of the Baptist faith. Regardless of how it came to be, there was a strong beautiful bond between this orphaned son and his loving foster mother. She was the only mother he ever knew and he adored her.
Claude V. Gormley ca 1918

In 1917 Claude, who by now was using the surname of Gormley, was “out West” working in Montana, and enlisted in the Army. His unit became part of the American Expeditionary Force that saw action in France. An article in Missouri newspaper (not identified or dated, but preserved in a scrapbook) tells the story:

Claude Gormley is Over Seas
Landed at Liverpool Christmas Day—
Ship carried 8,000 Soldiers and
400 Red Cross Nurses

Claude Gormley has written his mother, Mrs. Mat. [Matthew] Gormley of Hamilton, regarding the trip across the Atlantic. Claude is a member of M Co., 163d inf. 41st Div., American Expeditionary Force. He volunteered while in Montana last summer. His letter, written on Y.M.C.A. paper Christmas Day, is as follows:

 "We arrived at Liverpool, England feeling fine and had a dandy trip across. We left New York on the 14th day of December and landed here today. I enjoyed the trip and never got seasick. The boat we came over on is one of the biggest government transports: 950 feet long, 125 feet wide and has 17 decks. It has 48 boilers and requires a crew of 1,800 men.

American troops landing in Liverpool, WWI

“Well, mother, I haven't seen much of England yet. We came to this camp, six miles square, last night and it was dark when we left Liverpool and got in camp at 4:30 this morning. The weather is damp, but warm. We expect to cross to France in about a week. We are living in barracks and have lots of bedding to keep us warm. I hear there is a bunch of 700 men going over to France in the morning to fix up barracks for us to live in.

“There were 8,000 soldiers and 400 Red Cross nurses came over on the boat. I was on kitchen detail all the way over and we fed 500 men to each mess hall. We had a big turkey dinner last Sunday and all we can eat all the time. And we are going to have Christmas dinner tomorrow, 160 pounds of turkey to each company. Uncle Sam treats us fine, don’t you think?

“Mother, those socks you sent are sure fine, good and warm. I have ten pairs now, which will last me for a year. The English people are fine to talk to, but after we get to France I don't know about the talking.

The uniform of the English soldier is about the same color as ours, but is made differently. You cannot expect to hear from me now like you have been, but remember I am well and feeling fine so don't worry about me."

 Based on Claude’s description of the ship and the dates of departure and arrival, he must have sailed on the USS Leviathan.

USS Leviathan





USS Leviathan, a 58,000 ton (displacement) troop transport, was completed at Hamburg, Germany, in 1914 as the German flag passenger liner Vaterland. Laid up at Hoboken, New Jersey, when World War I began, she was seized when the United States joined the conflict in April 1917. The Navy took custody of the ship soon afterwards, placing her in commission as USS Vaterland in late July 1917, while she was being refitted for service as a troop transport. In early September the ship was renamed Leviathan, an appropriate name considering that she was then the largest ship in the U.S. Navy, and in the world.
The Leviathan's seagoing naval career commenced in November 1917, when she made a trial trip from Hoboken to Cuba and back. In December she took troops to Liverpool, England, but repairs delayed her return to the U.S. until mid-February 1918. A second trip to Liverpool in March was followed by more repairs. At that time she was repainted with the British-type "dazzle" camouflage scheme that she carried for the rest of the war. With the completion of that work, Leviathan began regular passages between the U.S. and Brest, France, delivering up to 14,000 persons on each trip. In all, she transported nearly 120,000 servicemen to the combat zone before the November 1918 Armistice brought the fighting to an end.
Claude Gormley was discharged from the Army at Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming 21 March 1919 and evidently headed back to Missouri soon thereafter. A step-granddaughter of Cynthia  relates, “I remembered vividly when Claude came home after World War I. Grandma Gormley and I were coming home from prayer meeting one Sunday night and as we neared the house we saw a lamp burning, Grandma started to run calling "Claude, Claude!" He heard her and came out to meet them. She was very partial to Claude."

Claude and Cynthia Gormley 1920s

Sometime after 1920, Cynthia went to Bremerton, Kitsap County, Washington to live with her youngest sister and probably to be near Claude, who was then working in a saw mill in Port Angeles, Clallam County, Washington.
Cynthia Gormley died in Washington 31 May 1929 at the age of 87.  Her stepchildren and grandchildren called her “Saint Cynthia."
Her foster son adored her.  What a loving legacy this kind woman left to so many.