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.