Henry Tilbe Smith

England, 1831. The year that saw the opening of the London Bridge, creation of the Royal Astronomical Society, the coronation of King William IV, the scientific demonstrations of the brilliant Michael Faraday, the departure of Charles Darwin for the Galapagos, and the birth of the also brilliant James Clerk Maxwell. But all that pales in comparison to the event that occurred on January 11.

It was that day that Henry Tilbe Smith was born to Charles and Ann Smith in the English village of Aldington in the county of Kent. He was their first child.

Three months later, on April 30, little Henry was christened in the local Aldington church, St. Martin’s. By 1841, he had a sister, Ellen Ann.

St. Martin's Church, Aldington
St. Martin’s Church, Aldington

In 1851, at age 20, Henry boarded the Italy at Liverpool for the trip to America. The trip to Liverpool was enough in itself for a village boy such as Henry. Liverpool stood at the other side of the country.

The Italy made another stop at Queenstown, Ireland, another new sight for Henry, before coming to New York.

Passenger list for Henry Smith
Passenger list for Henry Smith

From New York, he made his way to Rock Creek, Ohio, in Ashtabula County. There he met Frances Elizabeth Wilbur and they married in 1852. They soon moved to nearby Saybrook. There Henry became father to five children: Henrietta Ann, Mary Elizabeth, Charles Anson, Katherine Bell, and Frederick Henry.

Henry spent his years in America farming with his sons Charles and Frederick to help until they got their own farms nearby.

The last few years of his life Henry suffered from high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which we can probably blame on his diet which was high in fats. This caused his arteries to clog and blood to flow slowly, which probably led to some confusion as the blood wasn’t getting to his brain. When he worked he probably had tight pains in his chest and couldn’t catch his breath no matter how hard he tried. On September 18, in the early hours of the morning, Henry’s heart simply gave out.Henry Tilby Smith tombstone



George Albert Little

George Albert Little, son of John and Margaret Little, was born 14 April 1869 in Perry, Ohio. His young life was difficult because of the illness and then death of his father by the time George was ten.

I suppose anyone in this situation tends to go a bit wild because of the lack of guidance at home. All of Margaret’s energy went into supporting herself and her family.

But then, you never can explain everything by how someone was raised.

He married 14 November 1891 to Miss Clara Baker.

George and Clara’s Marriage License

George and Clara had three children: Charles Merriman, born 1892; Carlyle William, born 1895; and Blake Albert, born 1906.

In 1899, if there was any semblance of domestic bliss, it was shattered when little Charles suddenly died on September 4. For days, Charles had pushed his plate away from the table, unable to eat much. The little he did manage to eat didn’t stay down long. His stomach started to swell and he had that all too common complaint of little kids, “My tummy hurts.” He was thirsty all the time but never seemed to use the bathroom. He was steadily in decline. He developed blood poisoning and there was nothing that could be done. That left young Will, as he was known, as an only child until 1906 when Blake Albert was born. Again, their life was disrupted when George found Clara slumped over by their bed. She had simply dropped dead.Going over the census records, it is possible to believe that Blake lived in Pennsylvania with his mother’s parents, Moses and Eunice Baker. Until he marries, he is always enumerated with them. But he attended school in Perry and even played high school basketball.

Team Picture
Team Picture

But once he was grown, he did move to Pennsylvania and cared for his grandparents. Blake married Vera Kidder and had two children. He died in 1961 and is buried in Pennsylvania.

The remaining son, William had a brief, sad life. In January 1914, he married Margaret Ferry but died the next month, never seeing the son his wife was carrying who was named in his honor.George, the sometime farmer and sometime teamster, had since at least 1910, employed help to take care of his sons and his home. Her name was Ruby Callaway, the daughter of English immigrants.

In something very like Downton Abbey, George got involved with the help. 

In 1910, they had a son together, Paul Elmer, followed by their daughter Florence Mildred two years later. George and Ruby married in December of 1922. Three more children were born: Annabelle Marie, George Melville, and Richard Lynn.Starting around 1920, the Little’s owned and operated a dairy farm on the North Ridge Road in Geneva, Ohio. This created much more financial stability for the growing family. There they remained until 1944 when George and Ruby moved to Ashtabula, essentially to retire.

They could have also moved to escape. Youngest son Richard had drowned outside Geneva in the Ashtabula River at the age of 15. Four years later, age had caught up with George. He was 79 and had worked hard all his life. His arteries had hardened from his high fat diet and his heart wore out on 26 November 1948.

He was buried in the Edgewood Cemetery three days later. Ruby joined him there in 1977.

Thriller Thursday: the Trial of Tilby Smith

For a time, I worked a mind-numbing retail job. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to stop doing that. But one summer after I had taken some time off to bring feeling back into my mind, I was working the back to school section, stocking crayons. My supervisor (who later became a friend) was jabbering away about the newest obsession in her life: genealogy. I was sort of listening, but mostly thinking about sorting 8, 16, and 24 packs of Crayolas when one sentence made me drop an entire case of 24 counts:

“My great-uncle was executed.”

That got my attention.

So as I scrambled to get the loose crayons that had rolled everywhere, I was drawn into the story of one Tilby Smith.

On Wednesday, 8 June 1904, during a hot Ohio summer, Frederick Henry Smith and his wife, Inez welcomed their third child and second son, Tilby Lafayette Smith into the world. Tilby was named for both of his grandfathers: Henry Tilby Smith and Lafayette Eugene Hyde.

Nice, normal family, right?

It didn’t stay that way for very long.

His mother, Inez, died at her family’s home in Hastings, Florida a month after giving birth to her daughter, Dorothy. Tilby was five years old. Septicemia is a horrific way to die. It went by many names then, among them are childbed fever and puerperal fever. Now it’s commonly known as blood poisoning. Most often caused by contaminated medical equipment or dirty doctors or midwives, the infection spread rapidly and was often fatal before the rise of antibiotics.

photo of the Hyde home in Hastings, Florida courtesy of the Little family

Tilby watched his mother linger with sharp, severe pains that caused her to cry out all hours of the night, burn with a fever of over 100 degrees, and, toward the end, be lost and confused. She didn’t know who she was or probably anyone else, either. No child should witness that. He probably called out “mama” and got no response. Or at least one that made no sense. I’m sure it affected him and the rest of his siblings. His father, Fred, was left with four children, ranging in ages from 15 days to 15 years old.

Fred and the kids went back to Saybrook, Ohio soon after, this time for good.

By 1920, Fred had married again, to Edna Hopkins. They had no kids of their own. From all accounts, Edna was a good stepmother.

But a good mother or stepmother couldn’t change Tilby’s cold, cruel streak. Sure, he could be charming, but there was something odd about Tilby. There had to be.

Regardless, he found himself a bride, Lorena Welton. They married in June 1923.

Tilby’s marriage to Lorena Welton

The marriage didn’t last very long and Tilby was married to Clara Unangst by 1926.

In 1930, Tilby and Clara were the picture of happiness. They had two sons, Donald and Frederick. So when the unthinkable happened that May, not many saw it coming.

Or did they?

Poor quality photo of Tilby and Clara Smith taken from the May 31 issue of the Ashtabula Star Beacon and said to be the only photo of Clara in existance

The morning newspapers of 31 May 1930 blared the same type of headline.

IMG_1127I think you get the gist of it. Tilby was cheating on Clara, young beautiful Clara, and killed her to be with the other woman.

Monday, May 19. Tilby wanted to get away from another angry, bitter day at home. Clara would just have to deal with it.

The kids won’t eat today. Clara’s voice rang in his ears. Always nagging, she was. What was the matter with women? Why couldn’t they just leave him alone?

It didn’t matter that she might have had a point. Tilby was a trucking contractor, but work had been really slow lately. They sold most of what they had to put food on the table, but relief was not in sight.

So that morning he opened the newspaper and saw this

ad in 19 May 1930 issue of the Ashtabula Star Beacon

Tilby fumbled through his pockets. He had ten cents but not much more. He left the house quietly. The picture show would be his relief.

Her Private Life was about the scandal an English aristocrat causes when she runs off with an American man, leaving her husband behind. Tilby thought that must be nice to be able to do that, leave your problems behind. He was probably deep in thought when Julia walked in and sat down.

Julia Lowther was there to escape a failing second marriage and a dead end job cleaning a rich woman’s house. She wanted to run away too. She had dreams, but no way to make them real.

Then she met Tilby.

They would later say they fell in love at once and talked of going away from their problems together.

“I’m married,” Tilby must have said. But this didn’t faze Julia in the least.

“Leave her,” Julia must have replied. But that wasn’t enough for Tilby because Clara always made him angry, so angry he could kill her.

Again, Julia wasn’t fazed. She just asked how. Neither of them paid much attention to the picture anymore.

Tilby was ready; Julia was willing. Tilby had the revolver and a plan. The Smith & Wesson 32 caliber revolver was one of the few things he hadn’t sold. His wedding ring was sold the week before. He didn’t want it. Soon he wouldn’t need it.

Ten days later on May 29, Julia found herself in the woods off South Ridge Road in boots her boss had given her, holding Tilby’s gun. It was cold and it was raining, hence the boots.

Three hours went by before Tilby pulled up.  Tilby had stopped to get gas at his brother Wilbur’s service station and spent some time talking. Donald and Frederick were in the truck too.

He stopped when Julia stepped out of the woods. Tilby put his plan into action. There were robbers lying in wait so Tilby bent over, looking for a weapon. They asked for the Smiths’ money. They had none. So they asked for jewelry. There was none of that either. So Julia put the gun to Clara’s head and pulled the trigger. Clara died instantly. Young Donald, only three months old, slid down his mother’s legs and onto the floorboard, covered in his mother’s blood.

There were no robbers, only Julia. Tilby told Julia to run. She did.

Tilby gathered his plainly upset children and walked back to Wilbur’s store to call the police. When the sheriff came, he took Tilby back to the crime scene where he put on an award winning performance as a grief stricken husband. But there were no tire tracks belonging to the getaway car and boots had been found in the woods. Tilby was taken in for questioning.

He held out for five hours before breaking and telling the truth. He finally admitted he’d had his wife murdered.

Tilby’s mugshot

There was no real reason other than he had grown tired of Clara and was besotted with Julia.

Tilby went to trial, requesting to be tried by a judge and not a jury. This was not granted and he was sentenced to death but won a new trial on appeal. The appeal was granted on grounds that he had the mental ability of an eight year old child and wasn’t able to make his own plea or request trial by judge. But anyone as clever, charming, and conniving as Tilby Smith was not mentally challenged.

The second trial only confirmed the sentence and Tilby was sentenced to be electrocuted 20 November 1931.

Tilby Smith was led to the chair at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, still claiming complete innocence for Clara’s murder. He was only sorry that he had wasted his life and not a bit for killing his wife.

He didn’t let Julia off the hook either.

“I will not die with a lie on my lips,” he told the warden’s wife. She also gave his written statement to reporters.

“I, Tilby Smith, truthfully say that I had nothing whatever to do with he plotting or slaying of my beloved wife, Clara. I wish everyone to know I am innocent of this crime and before my God I will be honestly judged and my innocence will be proven.”

His strength appeared to fade once he saw the chair. But he managed to speak to the witnesses.

“May God bless every man in this room,” he said as he was led to the chair. “I hope none of you will ever have to face what I am facing today.”

As guards strapped him in and put the cap on his head and the electrode on his ankle that would complete the circuit, Tilby began to pray.

“God forgive me for my sins,” Tilby begged, “And take me to heaven to be with my grandfather, my sister, and my dear wife whom I…”

They threw the switch at this point. They didn’t want to hear his lies either.

 Tilby was taken home to Ashtabula for burial.

Tilby’s death certificate

the last photo of Tilby Smith, courtesy Ohio State Archives


Wednesday’s Child: India Hyde

IMG_0879India Hyde was the first child of Lafayette and Caroline Fox Hyde. She had been born 29 July 1874. The family had been living in Saginaw, Michigan and were on an extended visit to Caroline’s parents, William and Emeline Fox, in Harpersfield, Ohio when it was noticed that little India couldn’t stop coughing and she couldn’t catch a breath. She had the lung fever, known now as pneumonia. I’m sure they called a doctor but there wasn’t much to be done as India sweated and coughed and cried. She died on 10 January 1877, when Caroline was carrying her next daughter Inez, who was born that June.


Azores to Ashtabula: the Story of Manuel Rapose

Manuel Rapose was born 17 May 1864 on the island of São Miguel in the Azores to Anthony Rapose and his wife, Evelyn Lavena. He and his family faced many of the same problems the family of Manuel Fratis, which you can read here, if you missed it.

I have a theory (not much but it makes a little sense) that the Fratis family and the Rapose family knew each other back home in the Azores. They might even be related, I don’t know. But I do believe they were well acquainted. I’m reasonably certain Manuel Rapose played a large part in the immigration of Manuel Fratis at the turn of the century with a well worded letter, extolling the virtues of Ohio.

Manuel also immigrated to Ashtabula during the industrial boom to work on the docks around 1884. Most likely he came alone and when he had saved up enough money he sent for his lovely Mary, the woman who would become his wife soon after. The money was good but the labor was backbreaking. Son Anthony was born in 1889 in Ashtabula, and his sister Mary born in 1893.

 The missing 1890 Census makes me so upset sometimes. It would solve a lot of problems because the first record I am able to find for Manuel is in the 1902 Ashtabula City Directory. He’s now been promoted to dock foreman. But if you notice, Manuel is married (or at least living with) to a woman named Annie, not Mary. He lives at 6 Rice Street.

Here we are in 1904. Our Manuel Rapose is the second Manuel Rapozo on the list, the gang foreman. This time he seems reunited with Mary and living at 6 Devney, which used to be —

You got it. 6 Rice.

That’s the only clue that these Manuels are the same man.

I don’t know how to explain the two different women. Mary is listed as the mother of his two children. She seems to have been around first. He may have had a midlife crisis and took up with Annie. That obviously didn’t work out because he’s back with Mary quite soon. It could be that was a name Mary went by, I doubt it, but I don’t know. (Oh, how, I hated writing that.) It just seems a bit preposterous that one Manuel Rapose would move out and another would move in right behind him. I suppose nothing is impossible, but come on, be real. I do know I need to narrow my timeframe down and get in touch with the Ashtabula County Courthouse. I think that’s where my answers are.

Mary and Manuel remain living together when we find them in 1910. I wonder if she worried if Manuel would leave again or if she even worried about it at all. The census said they’d been married for 22 years, so there’s an other wrench in the search for Annie’s identity.

We also find that son Anthony had joined his father working on the docks. I’m sure that was at least a little uncomfortable because Dad’s the boss. The other guys probably thought Anthony would get special treatment from dad and I’m pretty sure that it didn’t happen. Manuel was probably a little harder on Anthony to make sure no one could even think he was giving his son special treatment.

Rapose family in 1910. They are the next to last family on the page.

If domestic bliss had finally settled on Manuel and Mary (and I hope it had), it didn’t last long. Mary had suffered from breast cancer for about two and a half years. Three weeks before she died in 1911, it was discovered she had come down with carcinomatosis, which halved her already feeble chances for survival. Carcinomatosis is further cancerous growths that are independent of the original cancer. This is not cancer spreading to other areas; it can still do that. In Mary’s case, she had breast cancer and carcinomatosis usually sets up in the lungs. In effect, it was like she had breast cancer AND lung cancer. For the last three weeks of her life, she suffered. She was often short of breath and coughed all the time, sometimes spitting up blood. She died the afternoon of November 16 and was buried two days later in St. Joseph’s.

Death Certificate of Manuel’s wife Mary

113368930_138110652876  This is the headstone of Manuel’s wife Mary, giving her birth date as 6 May 1855.

Tragedy struck again just four years later, in 1915. His daughter Mary, aged 21, also passed away.

Daughter Mary's tombstone
Daughter Mary’s tombstone

From the winter of 1914 until the next spring, this Mary struggled with tuberculosis. She had many of the same symptoms that her mother had: shortness of breath, coughing up blood. There wasn’t much to be done for the disease in those days. A lot of times, a patient would be sent to the sanitarium, but that was just death’s waiting room for the majority of people. You could survive, but it would take a miracle.

Mary’s miracle was not forthcoming. She died at home on April 23 and her brother and father are remarkably fortunate they did not catch tuberculosis themselves.

The next year saw a glimpse of joy for the Rapose family that remained. Anthony, now 27, married Mary Dorothy Fratis, daughter of Manuel and Rosie Fratis, at the Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church by Father Bernard Patton. Rosie was now herself a widow, Manuel having died in 1911. Rosie moved her family to 6 1/2 Devney, next door to the Raposes.

Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church in Ashtabula

I suppose two lonely people without spouses couldn’t live next to each other for very long without something happening. On 23 June 1917, Manuel Rapose and Rosie Fratis welcomed their own little girl, Genevieve, into the world. They were unmarried and living apart. I think the phrase “There’s nothing new under the sun” applies here.

I’m going to stop here and say I know I might have upset some people both by mentioning the illegitimate birth and by being nonchalant about it. You never please everyone. I believe in speaking the truth as it is without casting judgments that aren’t mine to make in the first place.

In 1920, the families are still living next to each other and little Genevieve is living with Rosie and they live next door to Manuel.

1920UnitedStatesFederalCensus Manuel Rapose
Rapose and Fratis households in 1920

Manuel and Rosie finally married in 1927.

marriage record of Manuel Rapose and Rosie Fratis
marriage record of Manuel Rapose and Rosie Fratis

Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted three years. The day before New Year’s Eve 1930, Rosie passed away.

Rosa Rapose death certificate

For some time, Rosie had been very sick. At first, she’d just been tired, but she kept pushing herself and pushing herself. But soon, tired morphed into extremely short of breath and she was soon unable to do even the most mundane daily tasks. Her body began to hold fluid and become tight and uncomfortable. She had heartburn when she laid down and chest pains when she was up. If that wasn’t bad enough, she had coughing fits all the time and couldn’t ever catch a breath no matter how hard she tried. The constant racking pains were nothing, she thought, when she saw blood in her handkerchief after a recent coughing fit. It was always worse at night. So she never got much sleep. Genevieve was still young and Manuel needed her, too. But there was nothing to be done. Three weeks before she died, her appendix ruptured and it was discovered in the operating room that it had been gangrenous and abscessed. More pain. Much more pain. Father Patton came to deliver the Last Rites. She could have died then, but she didn’t. Perhaps she would recover. A couple of weeks later, the fluid she had been holding because her heart couldn’t pump had settled in her lungs and caused pneumonia. Pneumonia was pretty much a death sentence. Father Patton returned to pray over her again. Four days later, her heart, almost gone, threw a clot and it traveled to her brain and caused a stroke. There was no saving Rosie this time.

tombstone in St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery
tombstone in St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery

Manuel stayed single for the rest of his life. He was 66 years old in 1930 and still had his job as a foreman at the docks. He didn’t keep it for long. He started forgetting things he once knew and was soon replaced as dock foreman. He had poor circulation from heart disease and high blood pressure. He puttered around home and watched his son start a family of his own. There were grandchildren to play with. His family looked out for him like he had looked out for them all these years. In 1942, his heart just stopped in his sleep in the early hours of the morning of July 8.


He was buried three days later besides his wives in St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery.


Sunday’s Obituary: Mercia Griffin Wilbur

Mercia Wilbur obituary 23 March 1881 issue of the Rock Creek Banner
Mercia Wilbur obituary 23 March 1881 issue of the Rock Creek Banner

I don’t know if I have anything to add to this. I think every genealogist would give their right arm to have an obituary like this. You get a maiden name, a birthday, date of marriage, detailed descriptions of the moves the family made, information on children, etc. However, it doesn’t have parents’ names, but then a lot of obituaries at this point in time don’t, even for children. At the same time, most obituaries I’ve seen aren’t this detailed either. But I think we’ll all tell you, it doesn’t help if that’s all the information you have.

In this case, with the beautifully named Mercia Griffin Wilbur, that’s pretty much it. I mean, I have census records, but they only cover the period after 1850, when they became every-name censuses. She was already well into her married life by this point. Census records, an obituary, and a death record are all I have. Based solely on the name of her son, Harvey Griffin Wilbur, I took a guess on her father’s name.  Turns out, there was a Harvey Griffin in the Sidney, New York area with a daughter Mercia’s age in the 1840 census. It’s purely a guess, but it’s a smart guess, I think.

I’ve been able to determine that their son William was the “darling” who died of smallpox in 1836. I’ve also been able to narrow down her husband Anson’s death date to 1874 or 1875. All simply from an obituary.

We are more, much more, than names and dates. These are the kind of obituaries I like, if only the parents’ names were included.

Sympathy Saturday: Manuel Fratis

On 20 February 1865, on the island of São Miguel in the Azores, a little boy who came to be known as Manuel Fratis was born. His parents were Lewis Fratis and his wife, Rosa Minnise. Lewis and Rosa were coming out of some of the worst years the Azores, a Portuguese possession, had ever seen. First there was Portugal’s civil war in the 1820s and then famine in the 1850s.

It’s during this time that you find a rise in Portuguese immigration, just like the rise of Irish immigration during their famine in the 1840s. To the best of my knowledge, Lewis and Rosa were not among the immigrants to America.

Manuel married Rosaline Rapose around 1894 in the Azores, soon beginning their own family with the birth of son Manuel Junior the next year.

Meanwhile in America, Ashtabula, Ohio had recently become the busiest port on the Great Lakes, sending out iron ore and coal on Lake Erie and the recently completed Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Ashtabula Railroad. The city experienced a thirty-year boom, attracting immigrants from around the world including Manuel Fratis and his growing family. However, he was leaving behind the twin sister of his infant daughter, Dorothy.

The first time we find Manuel in America is in the 1902 Ashtabula city directory. His brother Anthony was already there.

1902 Ashtabula City Directory showing Manuel and Rosa Fratis. Notice the different spelling (Frates) and brother Antonio (Anthony) living across the street.
1902 Ashtabula City Directory showing Manuel and Rosa Fratis. Notice the different spelling (Frates) and brother Antonio (Anthony) living across the street.

Manuel worked on the docks in Ashtabula’s harbor district. Unloading ships of iron ore and reloading them with coal was hard work, often taking 150 men to unload a ship.  Thousands of immigrants flocked to the harbor, competing aggressively and often violently for work.  Ashtabula had earned a rough reputation as a port city and was considered, along with Calcutta and Shanghai, one of the three roughest ports in the world.  The district was filled with bars and brothels.

Postcard picturing the harbor, 1906.
Postcard picturing the harbor, 1906.

It was not an easy place to be. But Manuel had to support his family that now included eight children by 1910. He never spoke any English or not enough to do business on his own, anyway. This was a time just before the First World War when immigrants were expected to assimilate quickly into society, like they were in the mid-19th century and a good bit like many expect today. The immigrant who does not learn enough English to get by can easily be taken advantage of and mocked as dumb and unpatriotic. But English is not an easy language to learn.

Manuel’s life was not easy and it was short. Manuel worked hard at a dangerous job to support his family, while Rosa stayed home to take care of the kids. Their oldest son, Manuel Junior, is found at the Boy’s Industrial School in Hocking in 1910. It was a reform school for juvenile offenders. Home life must have been stressful and difficult.

Then in the summer of 1911, Manuel noticed tumors on his neck. Two months later on Saturday, September 16, he was dead of liver and stomach cancer. He had gone to bed Friday night and never woke up. Rosa found him still in the bed. He was only 46.

Manuel's death certificate
Manuel’s death certificate



Sunday’s Obituary: Margaret McVitty Little


8 August 1841 was a cool summer day in the small Irish town of Drummans in County Monaghan. But it was plenty warm in the home of tenant farmer William McVitty. For it was there that Mrs. Margaret McVitty gave birth to Miss Margaret McVitty.

Yeah, you read that right. It’s not like genealogy isn’t hard enough as it is, right? Irish research? Now there’s the same name in a family!


Little Maggie, as she came to be known, was the seventh child but only the second daughter of William McVitty and his wife Margaret Gibson. When she was nine years old, her father came to America in search of gold. It was 1850 and the Gold Rush was on. It isn’t known how successful William was at prospecting, but four years later he went back to Drummans and brought his family to Perry, Ohio. Maggie was 13.

Moving in general is difficult enough, but picking up and moving to a new country has to be terrifying at 13. I know it was for something better than what they had, but still. Our forebears had to have been made of sterner stuff than we are. Or maybe just me, who knows?

If you read the post about John Little I wrote a few days ago, then you are at least a little familiar with the reasons that Irish immigrants might have left home and what they had to face once they got here. Well, the McVitty’s are pretty much the same.

At 16, Margaret married John Little. Two years later, their first son, Robert, is born. All seems lovely and peaceful.

While heavily (and probably uncomfortably) pregnant with their third child, John goes away to war, leaving Margaret all alone. Being a stubborn Irishwoman, she just went about her business, probably having faced worse in her life back in Ireland.

Three years later, John returns home and I’m sure Margaret thought things would return to normal now. But they didn’t, no matter how hard they tried. John was wounded and was unable to do the work to support their growing family. For a while, I’m pretty sure they depended on the kindness of her brothers James and Isaac to get along until the children got a little older and could do work to support the family.

When Robert was old enough, he grew onions for his uncle James and then taught school. Emma, the second born, worked as a domestic servant. Things were not perfect, but looking up. Then Margaret faced every parent’s nightmare: the death of her son Robert in 1880. Her husband had died the year before and she was left a 38 year old widow with very small children. Most women in her situation remarried quickly to have a means of support. Margaret did not do so.

With no visible means of taking care of herself, in 1885, she filed for a pension for John’s military service. She was denied. The stubborn Irishness reared its head and she enlisted doctors and friends in her cause for what she considered her rightful due as a Civil War veteran’s widow. She eventually got $8 a month for her troubles.

Margaret Little lived the next forty years surrounded by her children and her grandchildren. Her youngest daughter lived at home until her marriage in 1906. She moved her mom right in with her in the new home. Henry Croft must have been a good man. He let his mother-in-law live with him for 23 years.

Margaret began to suffer from high blood pressure and poor circulation as well as probably some confusion. But then, she was 86 years old. On 20 March 1929, she had a stroke and was confined to her bed. Four days later, in the morning of March 24, she passed away. She was buried next to John in the Perry Township Cemetery the next day. I know what the obituary says, but that’s where she is. Exactly where she’s supposed to be — with her family.

The Legacy of John Little

When John Little died in 1879, he left behind six children, ranging in age from 20 to a year old. The oldest ones grew up without him because of his military service and the youngest grew up without him after he died. I know that premature deaths were a relatively common thing in that era, but people lived to be old then as well. Maybe it’s the chances he didn’t get and experiences he missed that bother me, but most likely it’s the young children left behind.

John’s oldest son, Robert, was born 23 January 1859 at his parents’ Perry, Ohio home. In his short 21 years, Robert probably had to grow up a little. As the oldest, of course he had to step in and do more to take John’s place while he was away at war. For a while, he helped John grow onions for his uncle James McVitty. He was fortunate to have more time with John than most of his siblings and was probably primed to care for his mother when John died in 1879. I’m sure Robert stepped up to care for the family in the years John was desperately ill and had to grow up well before his time. By 1880, Robert was still unmarried, now teaching school in Bluffton, and was probably ready to set up his own life when he was mysteriously struck down by heart disease.

Robert J Little obit from 2 December 1880 issue of the Painesville Telegraph
Robert J Little obit from 2 December 1880 issue of the Painesville Telegraph

John and Margaret’s first daughter, Emma, was born 23 February 1861 also at their Perry, Ohio home. Emma only knew John as either absent or unwell. She was 18 when her father died and was soon working as a servant in the household of Charles Thompson. Emma married William Jacobus and moved to Cleveland, becoming a dressmaker. Apparently in demand, Emma opened up a sewing school on Euclid Avenue, a third of a mile from her Carnegie Avenue residence. William and Emma had no children. In her later years, after the death of her husband, Emma developed cerebral arteriosclerosis, which cut off blood flow to the brain. Her friends and her students noticed she didn’t make decisions as she once could and Emma seemed befuddled a lot more than usual. Most likely, she had a stroke and/or the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and was sent to the Post Shaker sanitarium. She remained there until she died on 27 April 1939.

Emma Jacobus 28 April 1939 obituary from the Painesville Telegraph
Emma Jacobus 28 April 1939 obituary from the Painesville Telegraph

The cold day of 6 November 1862 found Margaret in labor. She soon delivered her third child, a little girl named Adeline. John was away at war when she was born. Her first memories of her father are of a wounded, troubled man desperately trying to support his family. Shortly after the death of her father, she married Philo Joseph Norton, Jr. and moved to Ashtabula. There, Philo and Addie’s only child, Lena Ethel was born. Philo owned Norton’s Racket Store on Main Street for several years until he died in 1935. On 1 June 1943, Addie also succumbed to cerebral arteriosclerosis, the same as killed her sister Emma. It seems that hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and poor circulation ran in the family.

Philo and Addie Norton's tombstone in Perry Township Cemetery in Perry, Ohio.
Philo and Addie Norton’s tombstone in Perry Township Cemetery in Perry, Ohio.

The first of John and Margaret Little’s children born after the war was daughter Hattie on 22 June 1867. She was still rather young when her father and brother died and probably grew up a little sooner than she might have wanted. A few days before her 17th birthday, on 8 June 1884, she married Robert Skillthorp. Together, they had three children. After 18 years of marriage, Robert passed away and Hattie remained a widow for 43 years. During that time, she took up dressmaking to help support herself, sometimes living with her daughter and son-in-law, Paul and Alice Darrow. Hattie also passed away from heart disease on 30 June 1945.

Hattie Little Skillthorp obituary 2 July 1945 issue of the Painesville Telegraph
Hattie Little Skillthorp obituary 2 July 1945 issue of the Painesville Telegraph

Clara May Little was born 17 July 1872 and was still very small when her father passed away. In a sense, she was still a Civil War orphan. Families paid the price for the war for a very long time. On 29 December 1894, she married Charles Burr. Charles seemed to be a jack of all trades. His occupation ranged from farmer to grocery clerk to a rubber worker at the Firestone Tire factory in Akron. Charles and Clara had one son, Harold. Charles died in 1919 at the relatively young age of 46, leaving Clara a widow until her death on 17 April 1950 of a stroke.

Clara Little Burr obituary from the 20 April 1950 issue of the Painesville Telegraph. The obituary from the April 17 issue was virtually unreadable and another copy is being sought at this time.
Clara Little Burr obituary from the 20 April 1950 issue of the Painesville Telegraph. The obituary from the April 17 issue was virtually unreadable and another copy is being sought at this time.

John and Margaret’s youngest daughter, Lois, was born 19 December 1878 and was eight months old when her father passed away. She would have relied on stories from her brother Robert, but she was just over a year old when he, too, passed away. Lois stayed at home the longest, until the age of 27 when she became the second wife of Henry Croft. They had one daughter, Marjorie. When her mother Margaret became ill, it was to Lois’ home she came to live until she died in 1929. Lois, of all John and Margaret’s children, lived the longest. She passed away 19 March 1976 at the Ivy House, an assisted living facility in Painesville, at the age of 97.

Lois Little Croft obit 19 March 1976 issue of the Painesville Telegraph
Lois Little Croft obit 19 March 1976 issue of the Painesville Telegraph

I have left out one of John and Margaret’s children, George Albert Little. I did so because each section ended up short because of the problems I had finding some information and I really hate typing “I don’t know.” George’s section would have ended up really long and would be better as a post of its own. So you have that to look forward to, in case I haven’t bored you enough already.

George is also the ancestor of my friend for whom I’m doing this. I didn’t want it to seem like he was most important or that he was hogging the post. So many times I’ve heard genealogists say, “Oh, they aren’t my ancestor” or “They don’t matter cause they didn’t have kids.” I’m of the belief that every life is important and not just because cluster research has solved a lot of problems for me. Each person is somebody to somebody else. Each name in a record was loved by someone: parents, kids, friends, or even students. Think of Emma Little Jacobus mentioned earlier in the post. Running a sewing school may not seem important but imagine her funeral. How many of her students probably wore something they made in her class or something she inspired them to make, just so they could show that she mattered to them? That’s a legacy.

Someone with one mention in a record matters just as much to me as the person with a dozen mentions. Maybe it’s because I can’t have kids and I just don’t care for the thought of some future genealogist decades from now deciding that I don’t matter because I didn’t have kids or do anything they consider worthy or important.

Everyone has a legacy and it isn’t measured by how big or small the “survived by” section of their obituary was. It’s measured by how they made the people in their life feel. Every family has its problems and its issues, but the legacy of John Little was a family that stuck together and cared for each other. In the years since, that probably hasn’t always seemed to be the case, but it remains true. As a genealogist, I get attached to the families I research. I can’t tell you how many slips of the tongue I’ve made to my friend when talking about my discoveries when I’d say, “our family” as compared to “your family.” That’s because I really feel like part of their family, like these ancestors are also mine. That’s the legacy of John Little surviving even today. That’s a legacy to be proud of.

Who Are You?: The Mystery of John Little

John Little was born 23 October 1834 somewhere in Ireland to yet to be found parents. Vague, frustrating, and disappointing to me as a researcher and most assuredly not the way I wanted to begin this post. But I guess that’s the lot to be expected with Irish research.

Sometime in the 1850s, John made his way to America. I’m almost sure, without knowing many details, that John came to America for the same reasons nearly every Irish immigrant did. They came to escape the overpowering poverty, the seemingly never ending famine, outbreaks of disease, and an unsympathetic government back home.

There wasn’t much different awaiting them here. There was just as much poverty and disease in the slums of the cities immigrants first settled. Jobs were incredibly hard to come by, mostly because of the outright discrimination in hiring as found in the “No Irish Need Apply” signs around town, courtesy of the nativists. The nativist movement was epitomized in the rise of the American Party, also called the Know Nothings, in American politics during the late 1840s. They were anti-immigration, forgetting that they themselves were descended from immigrants not all that long ago. The first genealogy snobs, I suppose. They were also anti-Catholic, which made them opposed to nearly everything the immigrant Irish stood for. If you’ve ever seen Gangs of New York, the Daniel Day-Lewis character is a Know Nothing politician. If you haven’t seen it, watch it.

Common Nativist Flag
Common Nativist Flag

Looking back, it can be rather difficult to figure out why so many Irish took the risk to come to America.

Example of anti-Irish discrimination in hiring, playing upon the belief that all Irish were alcoholics.

But come they did, braving the unknown and treacherous seas. Because here was, if not prosperity, at least a second chance. Here was at least food to eat that didn’t belong to your landowner. It may not be much, but it was yours. Among the most successful famine immigrants were the ancestors of John F. Kennedy. It would be hard, but it could be done.

So John Little boarded ship and left everything he knew behind to try again. He settled in Perry, Ohio, on the banks of Lake Erie and about 35 miles from Cleveland. On 3 September 1857, he married fellow Irish immigrant Margaret McVitty.

John filed this intent to marry the very same day he married Margaret McVitty.
John filed this intent to marry the very same day he married Margaret McVitty.

My theory, such as it is, is that John Little was from the same Irish county, Monaghan, as Margaret McVitty. I have no special reason to believe he was and no special reason to believe he wasn’t. He seems to have married soon after his arrival, which makes me think he and Margaret already knew each other or at least their families did.

Marriage license for newlyweds John and Margaret Little
Marriage license for newlyweds John and Margaret Little

The outbreak of war in 1861 found John still in Perry with his wife, two year old son, Robert, and newborn daughter Emma. John didn’t answer Lincoln’s call to arms right away. He probably preferred to stay home with his pregnant wife and children and grow onions for his brother-in-law James McVitty.

But by the summer of 1862, John had joined the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in Captain James McIlrath’s Company A. In the same regiment were William Rosecrans, later Union general in the Western Theatre; Eliakim Scammon, later consul to Prince Edward Island; James Comly, minister to Hawaii; Stanley Matthews, US Senator; and Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, later US Presidents.

Colonel Eliakim P Scammon
Colonel Eliakim P Scammon
Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes
Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes

John was immediately shipped off by train to join the regiment in the outskirts of Washington, D.C..

John Little's Enlistment Papers
John Little’s Enlistment Papers

From D.C. John and his regiment joined the rest of the Army of the Potomac for the Maryland Campaign in September 1862 under George McClellan. South Mountain and Antietam were John’s baptism by fire, his initiation into real combat.

23rd Ohio Monument at Antietam
23rd Ohio Monument at Antietam

On the morning of September 17, the 23rd found itself just east of Antietam Creek. They could hear McClellan’s attack on Lee’s left flank. Burnside took his troops, including the 23rd, towards Lee’s right. It was their immediate job to ford the creek south of the Lower Bridge. They finally did so at Snavely’s Ford where they spotted A.P. Hill’s Confederates on their left — clad in blue and waving an American flag — before the Confederates opened fire. John’s commanders Major James Comly and Colonel Hugh Ewing, critical of Scammon’s hesitant manner, described the incident in their official report:

We crossed the ford of the Antietam under a shower of grape, and after being held under a trying fire from the enemy’s batteries for some time, made, under order of Colonel Scammon, commanding division, a charge upon his advancing columns, and checked and held his largely superior force at bay until the battle ceased on the ensuing day, and he was driven from the field….Soon after all doubt vanished, upon the furious attack which was made by them, almost at a feeling distance, upon the Thirtieth Regiment and our left. Almost immediately a heavy enfilading fire was opened upon our whole line, and Colonel Ewing gave the order to me in person to change front perpendicularly to the rear, which was done. From some cause (probably from the death of the aide bearing the order) we did not receive the order to fall back with the remainder of the brigade, and we consequently held our position until relieved by our division commander (O.R., Vol. 19, Part 1, 463, 468).

In the heat of the battle, the regimental colors were lost. They were later discovered near a stack of wheat. The battle was a costly one with approximately 20% casualties.

23rd Ohio regimental colors, 1861.
23rd Ohio regimental colors, 1861.

Michael Deady, also a private in Company A, kept a diary, which can be found here. His entry for 3 October reads, “Pass in review Gen’s Burnside & McClellan an President Abe all here Great time Dress Pirade in Evening.” I suppose the Union army was ready to celebrate any victory that could be found. Four days later, Deady reports that orders were given to ready for marching and cook three days rations.  The army was getting ready to move after Confederate forces under Jeb Stuart. The next day, two men dropped dead from fatigue on the seventeen mile march to Hagerstown, Maryland.

On October 8, Jeb Stuart raided Chambersburg, Pennsylvania with 9000 men. McClellan was as hesitant as ever to pursue General Lee’s army. Once Stuart made it back to Maryland, he met Federal troops, including the 23rd, now commanded by Colonel Hugh Ewing, a more aggressive commander. They chased him back toward Virginia.

Two weeks after that, the 23rd returned to what is now West Virginia. John had not been a part of the regiment at that time. He marched an average of 12-15 miles a day. In November 1862, the regiment went into winter quarters in the Great Kanawha valley and there they stayed until 15 March 1863. For the most part, the 23rd was on guard duty in the Kanawha River valley. The western part of Virginia was pro-Union territory and ironically, its secession from Virginia and the Confederacy was encouraged by the Lincoln administration. The Kanawha flowed into the Ohio River and Federal control of the valley would prohibit Confederate forces from streaming into the heart of Union territory. Federal troops were also there to protect the Union sympathizers in the region. The fighting they encountered at Antietam devolved into skirmishes with relatively small bands of troops. Duty was tedious but important.

Federal pickets at Kanawha, much like what John Little would have done. 1862. Courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives.
Federal pickets at Kanawha, much like what John Little would have done. 1862. Courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives.

They remained at that place until July performing little or no duty with the exception of a few scouts and its participation in the movements against two Confederate guerrilla raiders, John Hunt Morgan and William Loring.   The regiment headed off Morgan’s band on the line of the Ohio river at Buffington island and near Hockingport, capturing 700 guerrillas as they attempted to cross the river, including John Hunt Morgan himself. Morgan had crossed the Ohio river to raid southern Ohio and Indiana, which was the farthest Confederate troops ever reached into Union territory.

Illustration of Morgan's Raid
Illustration of Morgan’s Raid

The regiment then returned to Charleston and lay there in camp until the spring of 1864. In May, John and his regiment found themselves at Cloyd’s Mountain in western Virginia. The Confederate forces under General Albert Jenkins held the superior ground and General Crook decided to send the Union forces through the nearby forest to attack the Confederate right instead of a direct charge.  Leaves covered the forest floor and the sparks from the muskets firing ignited them, burning several wounded men alive. Most of the combat was fierce hand to hand fighting but ended in a Union victory and the destruction of the Virginia and Tennessee railroad, a vital supply link.

The regiment found itself immersed in the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of General Philip Sheridan. By June, the 23rd attempted to capture Lynchburg, Virginia and cut off Confederate supplies in the area. Unsupported as expected by General Sheridan, the battle was a Confederate victory with the Union retreat. That must have been a devastating loss to John and the 23rd.

It was not the last defeat John suffered. At Kernstown, outside Winchester, Virginia, Jubal Early delivered a devastating blow to General Crook and drove the Union forces out of the Shenandoah Valley and back into Maryland. Most of the Union troops had gone to support Grant’s efforts at Petersburg and that severely undermined the Union effort. That must have been more demoralizing than Lynchburg because the Confederate war effort was seriously in trouble at this time.

Confederate general Jubal Early
Confederate general Jubal Early
Union cavalry leader Philip Sheridan in the field

The Valley Campaigns soon took off later in the summer and fall of 1864 with a bright spot on October 19, the battle of Cedar Creek was a defeat turned into victory by the timely arrival of General Sheridan, unlike Lynchburg four months prior. Sheridan ended the threat Jubal Early caused in the valley at battles such as the third battle at Winchester and then joined Grant at Petersburg.

Map of the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns, August to October 1864. Courtesy Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com
Map of the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns, August to October 1864. Courtesy Hal Jespersen, http://www.cwmaps.com

John and the 23rd stayed behind. The winter of 1864-1865 was again spent in West Virginia on guard duty. It was during this time John was brought up on court martial. The details are unknown, much like many things in John’s life. It seems he escaped the ultimate penalty but that is about all I know.

John's service record telling of his confinement and subsequent court martial
John’s service record telling of his confinement and subsequent court martial

The Confederate collapse in the spring of 1865 ended the war and John and his fellows mustered out on 26 July 1865.

23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry prior to mustering out, 1865.

If this post has started to seem like a Civil War history lesson, it was sort of supposed to do so. I tried to make it interesting but included it because John Little was a small force in all these events. He wasn’t a general, so there aren’t books written describing his exploits. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t important, just not well known. Our lives make no sense outside the context of history. Events don’t happen around us; they happen to us. John Little fought here, worried here, and suffered here. He saw those two men drop dead of fatigue in the aftermath of Antietam. He fussed over proper dress when parading in front of his superiors, including the president. He smelled those bodies burning in the forest, helpless to help them while fighting for his life. He was not unaffected. Most of his time was spent marching and guarding. He spent lots of time on his feet in boots that probably weren’t the best after a lot of marching. No one comes back from war the same as they left.

After the war, John returned home to his family. A daughter, Adeline, had been born in his absence. Four more children would follow. He tried to adjust to civilian life and keep growing onions for his brother-in-law. He worshiped at the Methodist Episcopal Church in nearby Painesville. He tried. He honestly tried.

Methodist Episcopal Church of Painesville, built in 1873. Now on the National Register of Historic Places. Also known as Painesville United Methodist Church after denominational mergers.
Methodist Episcopal Church of Painesville, built in 1873. Now on the National Register of Historic Places. Also known as Painesville United Methodist Church after denominational mergers.

The marching caused problems with his feet and legs, a common complaint in Civil War veterans. John tried to do an honest day’s work for the pay to care for his growing family but increasingly found it difficult. A relatively young man still in his thirties, John developed varicose veins which culminated in a deep running sore on his leg. His friends reported that he had trouble breathing as well as having his leg heavily bandaged. In the months before his death, it seemed he might be getting better. The spot on his leg seemed to have gone away. Alas, it was not to be and John Little died 8 August 1879 at his home in Perry, Ohio.

John Little’s obituary published in the Painesville Telegraph.

In 1885, his widow Margaret filed for a pension on the belief that John would not have died at 44 if not for serving in the military. Her initial claim was rejected, but she persisted, enlisting doctors and friends to plead her case. She was granted $8 a month for her trouble. In the pension file, it is discovered that John left her a small house and four acres that the auditor valued at $310. That’s not much. It also describes the post mortem that was done. The diseased condition the obituary talks about? Lungs, heart, and liver filled with pus and infection. No wonder he could barely breathe. The pension calls his cause of death blood poisoning, or sepsis. The spot on his leg grew skin over it, but it never healed. The infection went from skin to blood stream and, left untreated, set up in his major organs, killing him at far too young an age.

In my research, I discovered a lot of information about Memorial Day, about Ohio, and the Civil War. However, I never expected Google to lead me to this:

It’s a film of the 1929 Painesville, Ohio Memorial Day parade. Margaret Little had died two months earlier, after being a widow for fifty years.

I hope John knows how proud his home was of him. I hope he knows how proud I was for his family to give me the opportunity to learn about him.