The Facts on Grace Foutz’s Birth
Call this item a correction.
In yesterday’s post, which chronicled the teaching career of Grace Foutz Chaney, and her life, post-marriage, in Uhrichsville, Ohio, I recounted the strange inaccuracies in Grace’s birth year following her marriage to Fred Chaney in December 1915.
Censuses of 1920, 1930 and 1940 all get it wrong. Even her gravestone in Longview Cemetery near Bowerston botches the date.
Which leads me to believe the error was probably intentional. And since the fibbing starts after Grace becomes Mrs. Fred Chaney, maybe that’s got something to do with it.
But I was wrong when I wrote:
But never fear: Grace’s 1970 obituary finally gets her age right….
Actually, the Times-Reporter obit never mentions Grace’s birthdate or age at all. So I thought I’d lay out how we know the truth from the lies — even those etched in stone.
Her definitive birth day and year we find via Ancestry.com in the Ohio Births and Christenings Index of 1821 to 1962. The actual film is not viewable online at Ancestry or FamilySearch.org, but here’s a screenshot of the index entry:
The censuses of 1900 and 1910, first in Sherman and Elizabeth Foutz’s home in Washington D.C., then Harrisburg, Pa., report Grace’s age as 9, then 19. Because the census-takers visited the Foutz homes in June 1900 and April 1910, respectively, the age is right and matches her birth year of 1890.
Then the official record gets fishy.
Erroneous Records Retain Grace Foutz’s Youth
Grace Foutz marries Fred Chaney on Dec. 18, 1915 in Wheeling, W. Va. This is all corroborated and matched up to the Grace we know in the 1969 Times-Reporter article on her life — which, nonetheless, is off by one year for her grandmother Rebecca Foutz’s death (she met Fred after traveling to Ohio for the funeral) and her marriage later that year.
Their marriage document begins the wackiness, listing Grace’s age as 24 (she turned 25 in September 1915) and Fred’s as 22 (he is just 19).
The 1920 federal census finds the couple in Uhrichsville, Ohio. Taken in February, before either of their birthdays that year, Fred is listed as 24, the age he will in fact turn in that July, while Grace is reported to be 26. She is really 29, and will turn 30 in September.
In 1930’s census, taken in April that year in Uhrichsville, Fred is 33 (correct) and Grace is listed as 34, meaning she has somehow aged just 10 years since her marriage 15 years prior. She is really 39. The record also list’s Fred’s age at first marriage as 19 (correct!), but Grace’s as 20, which doesn’t even match the incorrect age recorded in their marriage license. But at least we’re being consistent in being consistently off.
1940 — Uhrichsville. Another April, ten years later. Fred, 43. Right! Grace, 44. NOT! She’s 49 and will be 50 that September.
Fred’s obituary in September 1955 does get his age right at death, at 59. And his side of their memorial in Longview Cemetery is correct.
But Grace’s obit fails to mention her age or birth date. Maybe because, with no survivors nearby (and my great-grandfather Vance having passed away two years prior), there may be few family members to supply the correct information.
But her death record in Ohio gets it right. Well, at least her age. Here’s another screenshot from an Ancestry.com transcription of the actual record. My guess is that the death date — March 27, 1970 — and her (correct) age, 79, appeared on the record. The transcriber then did the math backwards and got 1891 for the birth year, when we know — don’t we fellow genealogy heads? — that Grace’s birthday in September makes 1890 the matching date.
And that’s how we know several documents for decades got Grace’s age wrong. My guess is that since Fred died 15 years prior, the gravestone had the birth year of her fancy — one matching Fred’s — etched on her side, with the death year waiting.
But Wait — Are Grace and Fred Related?
Let’s train our thoughts on the original departure from reliable fact. Why would Grace lie about her age at the time of marriage? True, Fred, at 19, seems a bit younger. But not all that unusual for the time.
Could he have been her student? Seems unlikely, since her profile in 1969 claims she met Fred in Harrison County on the occasion of her grandmother’s death in May 1915. Still, the article got other facts wrong.
Consider, for a moment, that the article may have got the circumstances right. And consider what’s left out. Grace’s father Sherman died in April 1915, and a cousin, Carl Coleman, in March, both of tuberculosis. All were buried in Harrison County. Perhaps the Foutzes — widow Elizabeth and kids Oscar and Grace — spent extensive time that year home in Harrison County.
If that’s the case, Grace’s and Fred’s abbreviated courtship of seven months, and marriage away from Ohio and Pennsylvania, could make sense.
But also consider the circumstances under which they met. Harrison County farming life in the 1800s was tightly knit. The same families who farmed together are buried together, and the names adorn the mailboxes today. Still, who is most likely to be attending the same funerals, particularly three months in a row? Family.
Fred Chaney’s mother’s maiden name, Wilson, is the same as Grace’s mother’s. Some preliminary poking around Ancestry trees and census records shows one of Elizabeth’s older brothers, William, born some 24 years before her, has a name (and birth and death dates, allegedly) that match a William Wilson who married an Ellen Dixon. They were parents of a Mary Wilson who matches the birth year of the Mary Wilson from Harrison County who married Emerson Chaney, Fred’s father.
So, could Fred Chaney’s grandpa, William Wilson, be Grace’s mom’s brother? Making William Grace’s uncle, and Mary — Fred’s mom — Grace’s cousin.
It could explain why they never had children, or acted wacky about their ages. But it does deepen the mystery.