Will the real Lewis Black please stand up?

Lewis Black? photo #3My adoptive great-great-grandfather Lewis Black took on the air of an almost mythical ancestor when I was young. No one I’ve ever known knew Lewis personally (he died in 1901), but everyone seemed to know things about him and have things inherited from him. There’s no question he was a real person—I’ve got loads of research to back that up—but I’ve started to wonder if everything I’ve seen and heard about the man can truly be traced back to just one man—Lewis Black.

I started to suspect this a couple of decades ago, when any question I had about the original owner of any of several heirlooms from our Kansas roots was met with the same answer: “I’m pretty sure that belonged to Lewis Black.” And then came the photos.  Continue reading

Alonzo Bailey, an American industrialist

Alonzo Bailey's HouseWith the new year, I’d like to get back in the habit of writing more blog entries on family history. I thought that one way I might gather up steam is to profile some new ancestors that haven’t yet been featured on the pages on this blog.

To start things off, I thought I’d write up what I know or could learn about my great-great-great-grandfather Alonzo Bailey (1799-1867). I thought this would be a quick blog post to research and write, as I knew next to nothing about Alonzo when I started writing this post over a week ago, but I’ve since realized that I’ll need at least three blog posts to cover what I’ve learned about this previously mysterious yet now impressive and fascinating man. Because of the growing size of this post and the ongoing discoveries I’m making, I’ll declare this post done for now and will update it with new information as I find it.

Alonzo Bailey was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, on December 14, 1799, to William Bailey (1768-1848) and Lucretia Tracy (1774-1859). He was the eldest of a family that would grow to include six children—three sons and three daughters. Alonzo was the first-born child in William and Lucretia’s young family, and he appears to have been a honeymoon child, having been born nine months and a week after his parents were married on March 6, 1799, in Franklin, Connecticut. Continue reading

Luke McMurry and the University of Illinois

The Elephant, 1870Luke Robinson McMurry was a well-travelled and multifaceted person who had his fingers in a great many pies, as I continue to learn. I’ve noted elsewhere his childhood journey overland from Kentucky to Indiana, his migration to Illinois after marrying Elizabeth Miller, his appointment to the Executive Committee of the Agricultural Society of Effingham Countyhis wholesale millinery and straw goods business in Chicago, his founding of a narrow-gauge railroad in Effingham, Illinois, in 1867, his mysterious departure to Arkansas with his family, and his journey to the Washington territory with his sons several years after his wife died.

Thanks to an unexpected find—an entry for Luke in the University of Illinois’ 1916 publication, University of Illinois Directory: Listing the 35,000 Persons who have ever been Connected with the Urbana-Champaign Departments including Officers of Instruction and Administration and 1397 DeceasedI’ve recently learned of another enterprise he was involved in—the founding of the University of Illinois. In this volume, I found Luke’s name enumerated as a Trustee of the University of Illinois from 1867 to 1873:

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Ruth Black’s childhood home (part 1)

Charnton House, Columbia, TennesseeIn a recent post, I presented my recent discovery (thanks to cousin Sharon Black) that my adoptive great-great-grandmother Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black was a southern girl who fell in love with a wounded Yankee soldier (Lewis Black) and then ran away from her childhood plantation to elope with Lewis and start a new life in the north. Since writing that post, I’ve been wondering about the location of the plantation and the identity of the family that she left behind, never to be reunited with either.

While it may seem like an impossible task, there are enough clues to make the attempt to find her family and her plantation worthwhile.

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The unexpected life of Ruth Tucker Black

My adopted great-great-grandmother Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black lived most of her adult life in a humble sod house in Jewell county, Kansas. Like nearly all of the citizens of Jewell county at that time, she was not born there, but immigrated from elsewhere. I had thought that Ruth was born in Ohio, as that was what she (and later, her son Frank) reported on numerous federal and state censuses. Oddly, though, I was never able to find a record of Ruth before she was married. Thanks to my cousin Sharon Black, that’s no longer the case.

Earlier this week Sharon sent me a couple of stories that she found in the course of her research. One of these is an utterly charming recollection of a woman named Winnie Bonecutter Riemensnider, who took Ruth as her adopted grandmother. Winnie’s mother died when Winnie was only a year and a half old. Winnie (born Winifred Alice Bonecutter on January 8, 1896) was 54 years younger than Ruth, and when Ruth died on February 15, 1915, Winnie was only 19 years old. Clearly, however, the two had a close and abiding relationship.

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A lost history, found

GeorgeWBailey1Lately I’ve been spending a couple of hours each weekend day reorganizing our family history archives. In the yet-to-be-organized portion of the archives, I’ve got a dozen large, plastic storage boxes, each of which holds hundreds of papers, photos, mementos, and other items judged at some point as worthy of being preserved.

One of these boxes is filled with memories and keepsakes from my great-great-aunt Dorothy Mary (“Dot”) Bailey and her husband Clarence Humphrey Bailey. You may know Dot as the young girl pictured at the center of my site’s header photo. Dot and Clarence were distant relations (third cousins; although they apparently didn’t know this when they met) and had the same last name before marriage, so I can’t be sure whether Dot adopted Clarence’s “Bailey” surname according to tradition, or whether she was an independent maverick who bucked tradition and kept her own “Bailey” surname.

I was lucky enough to have known them both as a child and to have known Dot until I was a young man in college. They were incredibly thoughtful, gentle, intelligent, and modest people, but for whatever reason, they never had children. My grandmother, Dorothy McMurry Black, their niece, was like a daughter to them and she was their sole heir. Their tangible memories have now passed to me, and I’m making my way through them.

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The Prettyman boys in school with their uncle

img001One of the pleasant fringe benefits of writing this blog is hearing from distant relatives (nearly all of whom I’ve never before met) who are also interested in family history. Almost without exception, both I and the newly met relatives come away from these correspondences having learned something new about our shared history.

My second cousin twice removed, Lorraine, first commented on my blog two months ago, and since then we’ve exchanged dozens of emails. She’s the one who made me realize that I must have made a mistake in my Horan pedigree, as her grandfather (Arthur Horan) was the brother of my great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Horan. The Horan family I had pieced together didn’t have an Arthur Horan, which made me dig deeper and ultimately uncover a case of mistaken identity (my second case of two people with the same name, born at nearly the same time in the same geographic area, with a parent of the same name).

One of the things that Lorraine shared with me is this wonderful school photograph of her grandfather Arthur Horan and three of his nephews—Roy Alfred Prettyman, George Irvin Prettyman, and Charles Austin Prettyman.

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