Week 16 – Storms

The prompt for week 16 is Storms. I don’t know of any ancestors who may have been affected by a natural disaster, so I have decided to write about a family that weathered some personal storms – my 4th great uncle Robert Whittle and his wife Sarah.

Robert Whittle was born about 1859 in Halliwell, Lancashire, England. He was the younger brother of my 3rd great grandmother Anne. You can read about her, here. Robert married Sarah Ann Johnson in the last quarter of 1882. The following year they welcomed their first child, and another 5 children followed within the next 15 years.

Robert’s niece, Annie, came to live with them between 1889-1891. I don’t know that Annie was a ‘storm’, but there must’ve been a certain amount of upheaval in their lives. I’m sure Annie was a big help to Sarah – helping with the children and probably chores, too.

Their youngest son, William died in March of 1889. He had just turned a year old. I imagine this was the first major storm that the couple weathered.

The family was living in Egerton, Bolton, Lancashire, when World War I broke out. Their son Robert was just 18, living at home, and soon enlisted. The oldest son, Frank, was in New Brunswick, Canada and enlisted there 29 June 1915.

Both men were stationed in France. How the family must have worried! Robert was killed in action on 05 December 1915. He is buried in the Browns Road Military Cemetery in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. The cemetery has 1,071 casualty burials, with 407 of those brave soldiers unidentified. Robert’s grave is marked with an engraved stone.

On 06 May 1917, Frank was killed in action. He was 31. Frank was buried in La Chaudiere Military Cemetery, also in Nord-de-Calais. This cemetery contains the graves of 907 servicemen, 314 of whom are unidentified.


In 1921, a memorial was erected in Bolton, honoring the men from that town who were lost in the First World War. In later years, casualties from WWII and the Falklands Conflict were added. Robert and Sarah died in 1930 and 1931, respectively. I’m glad they were still living to see their sons memorialized with this monument.

Week 15 – Taxes

The prompt this week is taxes. Instead of writing about property taxes, I have chosen to write about an ancestor I found very taxing to research.

Archie Edward Gilkerson was my great great grandfather. For quite a long time, that was about all I knew about him. My great great grandmother Grace was his second wife. Census records showed he was born in Illinois somewhere around 1865. But where in Illinois? Who were his parents?

Archie had lived in several New England states, so I wasn’t entirely sure where he died. I found an online index of Rhode Island deaths and burials that showed Archie had died 15 November 1925 in Coventry, Rhode Island. Since he had been dead more than 50 years, I was able to get a copy of his death record from the Town Hall in Coventry. I grew up in Coventry, and still live nearby, so it was no hardship to go there for the record. I stopped in after work one afternoon, and the clerk made me a copy. I waited until I got home to look at it. Place of Birth: Springfield, Illinois. Parents: blank. Ugh! No parents listed! But, I now knew he was from Springfield. Or was he? I guessed that the information was provided by his wife. Did she know for certain where in Illinois her husband was from, or did she just name the capital city?


My next step was to search for his obituary. I checked the local paper that served Coventry and the neighboring towns at that time, and found no obituary. The statewide newspaper is available on microfiche, but only the Providence Public Library holds all years. Most local libraries only have recent copies, or have done away with microfiche all together. I love looking through old newspapers, and need to set aside an entire day for it – even when I’m only looking for one specific thing. I am so easily distracted by all the articles. I especially love all the gossipy bits. “Mr and Mrs Jones of Cranston have returned home following two weeks in Connecticut visiting their daughter Julie, formerly of this city.” Before I know it, hours have gone by and I’ve only gone through a few months of papers… But I did find Archie’s obit. There were no details!

Having struck out locally a few times, I decided to contact the vital records office in Illinois. I explained I was looking for a birth record from 1866. The clerk’s response stunned me. “We don’t have records going that far back.” THAT FAR BACK?!? What the…? It was that moment that I realized how lucky I am that most of my ancestors are from New England. I have been spoiled by access to records dating back to the Mayflower’s arrival.

Most genealogists love wandering through cemeteries and I’m no exception. A girlfriend and I have a running joke about her father going to the cemetery to talk to dead mémères. I don’t usually set out to talk to dead grandmothers, but I will admit to saying hello and introducing myself when I visit the grave of an ancestor for the first time. I don’t really think they can hear me, but don’t want to be rude just in case. One summer day I was wandering through my favorite cemetery and stopped at Grace’s grave. Grace died in 1914 at age 30 having been married to Archie for only 5 years. I decided to have a little chat with her while I was there. I told her I was trying to find more info about Archie. I told her I knew she hadn’t been married to him for too long, but surely she must know more about him than I did. I told her I enjoy research and wasn’t looking for an easy answer. I said that I didn’t expect her to give me the information, but would appreciate a hint pointing me in the right direction. I left the cemetery and went about my day. Ran errands and other mundane stuff. I didn’t give Grace or my conversation with her another thought. Later that night I realized I hadn’t checked my DNA matches on Ancestry recently. I logged into my Ancestry account and saw a green leaf hint on my family tree. I clicked on it and was surprised to see a hint for Archie. It led me to the record of his marriage to his first wife. It showed he was born in El Dara, Illinois (not Springfield!) and listed his parents names. It was then I remembered asking Grace for a hint. I really don’t think that Grace provided assistance from beyond to grave, but it’s certainly a coincidence. I went back to the cemetery the next day to say thanks. Best not to seem ungrateful just in case…

On the marriage record, the father’s name was clearly Robert. The mother’s name began with an E and it looked like the maiden name might be Brothers. I called the Milbury, Massachusetts Town Clerk. I told her I had found an image online of the marriage record, but couldn’t quite make out the name of the groom’s mother. The original record was very clear, and the clerk said that the mother’s name was definitely Elizabeth Crothers. Woo-hoo! I finally got the information I had been looking for!

It was most frustrating because he is such a recent ancestor. I knew the information had to be out there somewhere. I have other brick walls, but Archie was by far the most taxing to break down.

Week 14 – Maiden Aunt

This week’s prompt is “maiden aunt”. Nearly every family has a maiden aunt.  Often this is the person who has the least information about them to be found. In the ‘olden days’ unmarried women did not generate the wealth of records genealogists live for. They did not typically own property. They lived with their parents, adult siblings, and then sometimes their nieces and nephews as they aged. No marriage records, no birth records for their children, and no land deeds or property records. Hopefully, future generations will have better luck researching their maiden aunts. These days, many single women are purchasing property and leaving plenty of records behind. Not to mention social media… I can only imagine what future generations of  genealogists will think when they see our social media posts.

In my own family, there are quite a few unmarried women. I look at the names on my family tree and wonder why they never married. Were they unattractive? Unpleasant? Did they prefer the company of women? As a single woman myself, I know it’s silly to think these are the reasons my ancestors remained single, and there are many other reasons to be unmarried.

My third great aunt, Sarah Alphonse O’Connell was born 05 September 1869 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her parents were Irish immigrants who met and married in Providence. Sarah was the youngest of five children born to James and Mary (née Batt) O’Connell. Her oldest sister Catherine and her brother John, also never married. The next oldest sibling, Helen, died at age 35 and left behind her 3 year old daughter, Grace. The middle child, Michael Frank, was my second great grandfather. Sarah, Catherine, and John lived at home until the deaths of their parents. James died in 1877 when Sarah was seven and Catherine was eighteen.

Two years before James died, all the children attended Catholic school, except for Catherine, who at 16 worked as a carder in a woolen mill.

1880 all Mary’s children were living at home. The four oldest, ranging in age from 13 to 21 all worked for a jeweler. It seems all but the youngest went to work after James died, rather than finish school. Sarah, at 10 years old, was the only one still in school.

In the years between 1880 and 1900, Helen married, had two children, and passed away. Helen’s youngest child only lived a few months, and Helen died within 3 months of her baby daughter. Michael Frank married and began his own family.

1900 found Catherine and Sarah living with their mother. Also living with them was their brother John and Grace, Helen’s daughter.

Mary died in May of 1905 and when Rhode Islanders were enumerated in June for the State Census, 10 year old Grace was living with Catherine, Sarah, and John. John is now listed as the head of household.

John passed away in 1907 and the next census shows Catherine, Sarah, and Grace still together. The census also shows that the family had taken in two boarders. A father and his 9 year old daughter.

In 1915, Catherine, Sarah, and Grace still had their boarder, Gladys, but her father was no longer residing with them. They also had a young man of 19 named Joseph as a lodger. In 1915 neither Gladys or Joseph were working, so how did they pay their way?

Catherine died in 1915 and Grace married in 1918, so by the 1920 census, Sarah was on her own, taking in various lodgers to help make ends meet. Sarah worked as a sales lady in a millenary shop for many years, and died 11 June 1947, outliving all her siblings.

I wonder why Catherine, Sarah, and John all remained single? Did they not find anyone suitable? I have another maiden aunt, Sadie McKenna (1888-1967), who according to my great grandmother, was an attractive woman and had several offers, but was too choosy. Before she knew it, she was in her 50’s with no husband or children. I wonder how these maiden aunts (and bachelor uncles) felt about being single? I hope they had happy lives full of good friends, family, and maybe a cat or seven.