Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Families

This is a story about how different families handled very similar situations “back in the day.”

This picture was taken in 1923 of the seven surviving siblings.
My maternal grandmother was born into a family of ten children. Only seven survived to adulthood, so she didn’t even know them all. Her father was a schoolteacher and factory worker and her mother had babies and was a homemaker. I think they were married in 1888.

Their first child lived only three weeks. She was followed by another daughter, a son, a daughter, another son, and then four daughters and finally, another little boy. My grandmother was #9. She was born in March, 1905.

Two years later (like clockwork) her mother had a son. Great-Grandmother Rachel went out into the chilly morning air too soon after her little guy was born, and she caught pneumonia that would end her life. This was 1907. I don’t think she reached her 40th birthday.

The family tried to keep the little boy alive, but there was no one to nurse him and Lord only knows what all they tried. The oldest girls were able to care for him otherwise, but there was no milk, or not enough of it. You didn’t just run to the store for Similac© in that day. I don’t know what all they did, but in September 1907, he too died.

The story doesn’t get any better. The following April, the 8-year-old girl contracted Typhoid and she too died (although her two older brothers survived). My great-aunt, born in 1899, told me how the home was quarantined and the other children went elsewhere. The four of them, mother and father, baby boy and little girl are buried in West Jefferson Cemetery. I don’t know where the first little girl was buried.

What is interesting about this family is that my Great-Grandfather John was able to keep his family together without farming them out all over to different friends and relatives, or marrying some young girl to take care of the place (or an older spinster or widow). We will find out later, it doesn’t always work out like that. He was a teacher and while not a “farmer,” they had land near West Jefferson, Ohio and grew their own food. Later, when my grandmother was 7 or 8, they moved to Springfield, Ohio where her Dad worked in a factory. The older children were leaving home, getting married and starting their own families. Grandma was the youngest and “benefited” (?) by playing and learning from older siblings.

When my husband and I got married, over the course of time, we discussed family histories, I was interested to learn that my husband’s great-grandfather also had a large family, and lost his wife in much the same way as my grandmother’s mother died: three weeks after her last child (my husband’s grandfather) was born. The word pneumonia was never used, but it was in early Spring and was too similar to believe it was anything else! It was a few years earlier as this first marriage took place in 1874.

However, his great-grandfather handled things differently. His first wife gave birth to six children, and he couldn’t take care of them and farm. His step-sister took the baby, and although the word “nurse” was never used, that is to be assumed. He kept the other five at home and he got ready to marry the girl down the road, to take care of them.

The family reunions started with those six siblings. 
I am making a lot of assumptions here, but it seems that he married for one reason, a housekeeper and mother for his children. Perhaps they learned to love each other over time. The baby was eventually weaned and returned to the family, and they had another son of their own. Life went on and it was a happy family. The six siblings (an 8-year-old also died in this family!) started the reunions that we still attend today. I never met my husband’s grandparents, but I did know the son of the second wife.

Today, we take for granted things like formula, medical care, and paid childcare (although that is not necessarily used in crisis). When a family loses a parent, friends and family step in. There are crisis services available. In those days, people DID step in to help, but ALL of them had large families of their own and they could only do so much. That’s why many siblings were split up.

Thankfully, for both of these families, although each was done a different way, the family stayed intact.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Carrie M. Howell Johnson (Babe)

She really is lovely and
looks nothing like my
great-grandmother, her sister.
The last time I wrote about my great-great grandfather, and this time I want to write about my great-grandmother’s sister. To put this in perspective, this great-grandmother was GW Netts’ daughter-in-law Mabel Howell Netts, so this is not a “blood” story. (At least to him)

Carrie M. Howell was Mabel’s sister, but I don’t have her birthdate. She was called Babe. Common sense tells me that she was younger than Great-Grandma Mabel, but I don’t know.

Babe married a preacher and on her wedding night climbed out the window of the bathroom and ran away over to her sister and brother-in-law’s. This would have been her first marriage.  She divorced her husband because he smoked. (I guess people didn’t know each other well in those days!) This would have had to be about 1898. I do know my Great-Grandma Mabel Netts was married in 1900 for what that is worth. 

Babe’s and Mabel's father, (my) GG Grandpa Benjamin Frederick Howell, set up in her own flower shop which is now called Netts’ Floral, still in existence, so she would have a livelihood.

She was ahead of her time. Her nephew told stories that she wore pants (jodhpurs) when no woman wore them and swore like a sailor.

Later she married John Wilson and died in childbirth (the baby was 13 lbs.) where we could have saved them both today. At that time my Great-Grandmother Mabel Howell Netts took over the florist shop, thus the name change of the shop. Two of her sons worked in it (until my Grandpa went to work for the Springfield Sun in the 40s), then her grandson and his wife, and today their daughter (who is my second cousin).

From the story about GW Netts, it sounds like he helped get the flower shop started for his daughter-in-law.

I am missing some pieces in this story as to time, but I write this so that the readers would know that at the turn of the 20th century, there WERE women who didn’t put up with anything they didn’t like in a husband, even if he was a minister!

She was a woman who didn’t mind wearing pants when no one else did, maybe it was because of running a greenhouse. As to the swearing, I guess she and her first husband wouldn’t have gotten along well anyway! Babe was 20 years ahead of her time in manners, custom and dress.

She must have been a character!

Friday, September 9, 2016

George Washington Netts

Credit: Heritage Center of Clark County
My great-great grandfather was born in 1847 to first generation immigrant German parents. His name was George Washington Netts, and I always thought he was born in Germany; but it doesn’t make sense that two German people would name their son after the former president of the USA. It does make sense that they would name their first child born in America after George Washington. I know he did have siblings, and I do know he was born in Springfield, Ohio.

What is interesting about him is that he journaled his life from 1868 until fewer entries in 1933, the year he died. I do not have the original journals, although I have personally seen them and they showed his declining health by his handwriting.

As a family, we donated the journals to the Clark County Historical Society. They were delighted to receive them, because as a unit, they tell much about a life at a particular time. If you “like” the historical society on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, they put an excerpt from the diary on Mondays using the hashtag #GeoNettsDiary.

What the diaries tell me:

He began these diaries the year he turned 21. One day seems like another until you come to April 15, 1868, where it says, “This is the third anniversary of A. Lincoln’s death.” WHOA! That tells you that you have entered another world.

George spent his youth making windmills. Many of them were in the area, but he did travel out of state. Even today, when I see one, I wonder if he made it. His travels were interesting. He traveled with other men (workers) and they didn’t stay in Holiday Inns. They made do in many situations. Men slept together back then and no one thought a thing. I don’t remember all of the places he went, but it included the Midwest and went all the way to Chetopa, Kansas; where he met his future wife.

He built furniture and returned to Springfield a couple of times. It does not appear that he was “going steady” with Lizzie, as he had many friends in Springfield. He received letters from her. On June 10, 1974, they were married and she left her home and came to Springfield, Ohio. (Although the diaries do mention trips back to Chetopa). Their first child, my great-grandfather Charles was born in September of 1875.

By this time, George was making furniture in Springfield. He had social interests with the Masonic Lodge, the Universalist Church (as well as Lutheran) and the YMCA. He played cards and had discussions with other people. He and his wife (and child) socialized also, spending much time with his sister, who lived about four or five blocks away. These residences no longer exist, but I’m able to figure out where they were.

In normal succession, another baby, Robert followed and a few years later, Benjamin. Then a little girl was born in 1983 and another in 1886. Tragically, the little girls, 6 and 3, succumbed to diphtheria, three weeks apart in early 1889. This was probably the saddest part of his life, losing his two little angels. He doesn’t elaborate on his sorrow though—I’ve always said that I would like to read Grandma’s diary. Women didn’t have time to write with seven children.

Two more male children followed, James and Stanley, who was born in 1893. He was only 8 years older than my grandfather Benjamin Charles, the first grandchild, who was born in February of 1901.

For most of his life, George was a furniture maker, but he did odd jobs here and there also. There was a period of time where they ran a store and lived above it. There was a time when he was “appointed” (this was a political appointment) the superintendent of City Hospital. The short of it is that hospitals were NOT what they are today! That could be a book all by itself! GG-Grandmother did all the laundry and cleaning! This only lasted two years, so I guess they didn’t do so well. Some of his other activities are documented in the picture I have used. The credit for that layout belongs to the Heritage Center of Clark County.

What I find interesting in this whole scene is that there was no Social Security in those days, but he was a planner. He managed to get on the Board of the Merchants and Mechanics Savings Association, where he was able to secure loans at an “employee” discount. He built several homes and rented them out, so that the rent would pay the loan and by the time he couldn’t work anymore, the loans would be paid off and that would be his income. 

He lived in at least two of these houses. Actually, for someone who lived in the same town, within a few blocks, they moved quite a bit. I’m going to guess (without looking all of this up) seven. They certainly didn’t accumulate much. Great-Great-Grandma Lizzie died 11 years before George did, and he was 8 years older than she was. She was only 68 and he lived to be 86. She died June 9, 1921, the day before their 47th wedding anniversary.

George never went home after the funeral; he went to his son James’ home. There were things to “settle” as with any death, but he never slept in their house again. He claimed that was the worst day of his life.

His last eleven years were much of a daily routine. He had his interests and his son and daughter-in-law had theirs. In 1925 he became a great-grandfather for the first time with my aunt. On our branch of the family, he lived to mark the births of five great-grandchildren. His second son did not have children, and I am unsure of the others. Stanley, the youngest went out west and was not heard from again. My mother tells me that he did have two children at some point.

The last two years of his life were slower and he complained of tiredness and spending much of his time in bed or laying down. He marked the deaths of friends and companions. His last entry was August 11, 1933. He died August 26, 1933.

My mother would have not been quite two years old.

Firsts that George Washington Netts would have seen or heard:
  • The first lawnmower (push lawnmower).
  • The first automobile.
  • The first airplane.
  • The first telephone.
  • Indoor plumbing as it came to the middle class. (They did have an outhouse, and he went to the YMCA to bathe).
  • Incandescent lighting as it came to the middle class, along with electricity.
  • Radio (wireless).
  • Silent films (although he doesn’t mention this as a form of entertainment). The first “talkie” was The Jazz Singer in 1927. I doubt, at 81, he went to see it.

What he did not live to see or hear:
  • Movies as we think of them, even the early ones. “Gone with the Wind” came out in 1939.
  • Television.
  • All electrical appliances that we think of.

Although he died during the Depression, I don’t think it affected him much. He lived with his son and still collected rents from his houses. Eighty-six was a long life back then. He is buried with his wife and two daughters in Ferncliff Cemetery.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Remembering Where We Came From--Links to Family History

We aren’t recording our family history anymore. Oh, a few of us join up for and some have gotten their DNA analyzed, which is VERY interesting, but do our kids know what their grandfather’s profession was? Or maybe great-grandfather?

I’m going to try and record some funny stories and not so funny stories and just plain how it was back in the day. My kids may never be interested, but maybe a grandchild or great-grandchild will be. I have already posted some interesting stories and here they are for easy reference. Many were complete accidents and some were intentional.

As you can see from the links, I have already written much on family history. I think it’s a good thing to have them all in one place. But as we head forward, I’m going to concentrate on history that’s a little bit older. I think it will be interesting, at least some day.

The three blogs on settling estates were requested, but I think there were many people that got something from them:

And the gut-wrenching Settling Estates: Part Three

Then there are other entries which just tell a story set in a certain time period, or are about something specific.

So if you’ve looked at even SOME of these, they are history. They are stories. But next time, I am going to focus on my Great, Great Grandfather. I never knew this man, yet I did. You’ll see why next time.