Posts Tagged With: death

Five Enduring Foutz Family Mysteries


Jonathan Foutz

Great-Great Grandfather Jonathan Foutz would probably agree with Dory — looking for answers to genealogy questions? Just keep sleuthing!

Genealogy Never Rests

Just keep sleuthing, just keep sleuthing….

Dory from Finding Nemo (and her own eponymous sequel) was really a genealogist at heart. The motto that kept her moving — swimming — kept leading her to families, no matter the leagues between them. First, Nemo’s, then happily, her own.

Aside from occasional bursts of full-contact hereditary rummaging, my genealogical quest has been more of an occasional thing. Some early-a.m. flipping through old newspapers here, some peeks at the burgeoning pile of electronic detritus on Ancestry.com there. Day job, Dad duties, mindless TV — all conspire to slow my family-sleuthing from mad scramble to meandering marathon.

And that’s OK. This blog is a record of where we’ve been before, and an open lane to the depths we’ve yet to discover. And often, the way to latch on to new currents is to back-paddle to places we last left off. Dive around. Pick up the tidal pull again.

What do we do? We sleuth….

Questions to Keep Sleuthing By

My goal for this space the next six months is to share, at least once a week, some tidbit or tale that I’ve kept under glass the last few years, or lately untangled from the historical net. These discoveries spark conversations, which in turn spark connections — people with answers, and questions of their own. Keep ’em coming.

For now, here are five of the biggest, most-enduring mysteries I’d like one day to solve, bringing further clarity to the muddy waters of Foutz, Ley, Weible, Morgan, Fisher, Johnson, Palmer, Zeigler origins.

1. Where did Michael Pfouts come from?

Yeah, we think we know. Württemberg. Along the lower Neckar River region in Germany. Where Foutzes of old farmed, fought, made little Foutzes.

So says John Scott Davenport’s Foutz Newsletter of the 1980s: Michael Pfoutz emigrated to America in 1787, settled in Washington County, Maryland, and by 1810 or so was on his way to Harrison County, Ohio, where multiple records pretty definitively trace the Pfouts-Fouts-Foutz story through the succeeding two centuries.

But: Where exactly did Michael come from in Germany? Why did he cross the ocean, at 18? Did anyone come with him? Where else did those possible brothers and sisters, and father and mother, end up?

As the Davenport newsletters grow yellowed, and the originators of that work pass away, we’ve got to look for new answers, new connections. One I may have found, that I’ll reveal in a post soon (to echo Star Wars’ original trilogy): “a sister(rrrrrrrrr)?”

2. What happened to Rachel Foutz?

As traced in the years since an original summation of Foutz mysteries, we now know what became of every brother and sister of my great-grandfather, Vance Foutz, and even have a pretty good bead on their descendants, save for one sister, Rachel (Foutz) Coleman.

Rachel was one of three older sisters to my great-grandfather. We know what became of Lila and Ida. And it’s through Ida’s son Sherman’s diary — and the useful transcribing of distant cousin Dawn James — that we gain a little color around the facts we know, and a window on life in Dover, Ohio after Rachel and family followed younger brothers Charles, Vance and Mom Rebecca Foutz there in the first decade of the 1900s:

  • Born June 3, 1871 to Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz,in Harrison County, Ohio
  • In 1891, at age 20, Rachel married a war vet, William Coleman, more than 20 years her senior, and became stepmom to at least one living son, Berttie
  • They had at least four kids — Carl, who died of tuberculosis at my great-grandfather’s house in 1915 (same spring as Rebecca Foutz and her oldest son, Sherman); Blanche, Frank and Bessie.
  • Bessie, born in 1906 in Dover, disappears, along with mother Rachel, from the record. No other census, death or burial records have been found.

We later find William living in a veterans’ home in Canton, Ohio. And Frank lives until 1959 in Canton (he has a family I have not further explored – could be connections there). Meanwhile, sister Blanche lives until the ripe old age of 97, passing away in 1994 in Kent, Ohio. A few years back, I spoke to a family who knew her well, and shared photos. Story to come.

But what became of Rachel? There’s a mystery even more vexing for all we’ve assembled about our now-distant Foutz relatives.

Kaiserslautern Coat of Arms

Kaiserslautern Coat of Arms. The Leys emigrated there from The Netherlands sometime in the 1600s.

3. What can we learn of the Netherlands Leys?

According to A Short History of the Ley Family, a pamphlet passed down from our Port Washington, Ohio Ley ancestors, the Ley family originated in the Netherlands and came to Kaiserslautern in Germany, probably in the late 1600s.

We can trace the family back through my fourth-great-grandfather, Karl Ley, coming to America in 1833 and settling first in Shanesville, Ohio, and later, Port Washington, making his career as a saddler. And then further back through his father, Frederick Charles Ley, a minister at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pfalz, Bavaria; and then through his father, John Frederick Ley, also pastor at that parish (succeeding, in fact, his father-in-law, who succeeded his own father).

Neat trick, and probably an amazing place to visit someday for all that family mojo.

But we don’t know much about Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Ley — not his name, date of birth, city of residence, or death — save that he had a large, rural estate and was mayor, for a time, of his unknown city. And that his dad, Great Ley x 8, was first to move from the Netherlands and settle in Kaiserslautern, where he set up a cloth “manufactory.”

What can we learn from detailed German records, which seem to have been maintained through the tenuous political jigsaw puzzle of those centuries, and through war, etc., but weren’t so far recorded by our relatives?

Who were Thomas Johnson’s parents?

We’ve got names, known to my grandma, Erma (Johnson) Foutz, and her sisters. Just not much else. Maybe because his name was so common?

George Johnson was probably born in England, so says family legend, and he married a, well, Mary, and they settled in Guernsey County, Ohio. That’s the sum total of our knowledge about fourth-great-grandfather Johnson.

Admittedly, it doesn’t get too much clearer with Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Thomas, who died at 42 in the Civil War. Though just where in Mississippi, and of what, is a matter of some debate. (Possibly also due to his fairly common name?)

We hear he was a mule skinner in the army — something to do with nabbing available meat from local farms the army passed through and butchering it for the fighting boys. But we don’t even know that much about the wife he left behind, Nancy Valentine, back home in Guernsey, at first, and then, by 1910 in Jackson, Ohio. There’s a tid bit about her maybe not getting his pension — why? We also don’t know her death.

This is odd, because we know all their descendants, and their paths through Harrison and Tuscarawas counties, Ohio. Time to start sleuthing….

5. Where, in Wales, were the Morgans?

Also in the common name department are my second-great-grandparents, Thomas and Jannett (Rees) Morgan. We know their lives after they emigrated from Wales quite well — from their marriage in Philadelphia in 1872, to their settling in western Pennsylvania, and eventually, in Carnegie, where Thomas ran the Hotel Morgan before he died, in 1897.

What is a continued vexation — a problem not cleared up by the terse obituaries of the 19th century — is just who their parents were. When Thomas first came over; when Janet did. What happened to their sisters and brothers (if they had any) and parents. Even how “Reese/Rhys/Rees” is spelled.

We have theories about where they were from in Wales, and family stories of Jannett and her children going back to visit. We’ve gained their photos, and a hunch about Jannett’s Dad’s name, Daniel.

Everything else? Time to get sleuthing.

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Categories: Foutz, Johnson, Ley, newsletter, Weible | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Ritual Worth Remembering


Single malt scotch and cigar

Keeping the ritual: single malt scotch and prepped cigar ready for (solitary) porching.

Remembering How To Solve World Problems, One Cigar at a Time

In our most blithe — and, I’d wager, boyish — of justifications, whenever the growing brood of grandkids was (mostly) tucked away in beds, and the ice bucket still newly cold, and the womenfolk hadn’t caught up to us yet, my father-in-law and I called our ritual nightcaps of scotch and cigars “solving world problems.”

Even if we’d forget the solutions the next morning.

(That’s an excuse to solve the problems all over again.)

There was more to it than that, of course. (More than solving world problems? Well, yes.) There was a father-in-law generous with his time, and stories he’d told “six or five” (or a hundred) times, and laughter amid the ashes in the open air of a screened-in porch, as welcome at the end of a journey — his or ours — to see them, for a holiday, or an ordinary day, or goodbye at the end of a heartwarming stay, or the ways we ended up marking time, through 16 years: of engagements, and weddings, and births, baptisms, first houses, and promotions, publications, big moves… and end games, divorces, demotions, departures, funerals.

But that’s getting ahead of the thing. Smoking right to the label before really savoring a puff. Reaching into the ice meltwater for enough of excuse to warrant a last pour.

We had to earn it. In the way of all world-savers.

Or ordinary dads, at the end of another hard-fought day.

I looked forward to the ritual of the thing. Knowing we’d be headed to their place, I’d stock up on some “good stuff” for the trip. A nice Highland Park 12- or 15-year. Maybe a Clynelish, yeah, show off a bit. Or (what came to be) my favorite, Laphroaig 10. Smoky and peaty and climbing right out of the glass. Tangible. Like a good solid fist rap on the table. POW. The good stuff.

Load my portable humidor with a selection palatable to me: some Romeo y Julietas, or Macanudos, or Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, A. Fuente. As long as it was of “conversation” length. Commitment. We’re talking Robustos, at minimum.

His brand was always Macallan 12-year. And H. Upmann Vintage Cameroons. Churchill length.

And of course, I’m full of shit, in the way of all good stories and the fuzzy (careworn) memories of guys talking guys stuff. Always was whenever it suited us, or eventually what suited us. It didn’t start that way.

I’m proud to have been around a bit early, though not from the beginning.

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Shivering in a Tractor Shed…

For that, so I’m told, you’d have to trek back to the Farm. Always the Farm. Of course.

In days when Grandpa Cornell and Granny Ila ruled the roost, the good stuff was more than likely “Sheep Dip” (finest blend of anywhere from 8 to 21 scotches). The cigars worthy of biting the ends off and spitting them in the weeds somewhere. And always a good farmcat scamper well away from the big house. Maybe even in the tractor shed. If you’re lucky, the space heater might even have been working.

I remember a few nights like that. After my Thanksgiving indoctrination as the (serious) boyfriend. Standing around on the path outside the side door. Nothing more formal than passing around whatever cigars somebody had likely bought in bulk. Not a “guillotine” among us more fancy than incisors, molars. And cups — could have been Dixie, for all we cared — of whatever swill was in the cupboard above the workbench. Aged by proximity to Ford tractors. Call of the coyotes.

Hey, maybe even it was Norway’s elusive import, Aass beer.

But finery is the coat you weave out of your own experience. Or aspirations. What the hell, right? So long as it fits. You get to like it. Get to shimmy a happy little shimmy whenever you shrug into it.

Takes time, though.

Before my wedding, stocking up in Chicago, I bought a bale of discount cigars at the shop a stumble up the road from our first shared apartment in Naperville. Stashed ’em in the trunk of my college Mazda Protege, beside a bottle or a few of my dad’s wine least likely to explode en route to Kansas City for the big day. They ended up wine-soaked. And awful. I heard — since I was too busy glad-handing and 5-minute-guest-visiting as Gary made use of them anyway, smoking up in the parking lot outside our reception at Figlio Tower in Country Club Plaza.

How come the brag-worthy moments aren’t always the ones you plan with an iron grip? And take place even with you on the periphery? Like the noteworthy hookups that weekend, we couldn’t take even a smidge of the credit. But it’s the backdrop of the best times. And you bask in the residual (lighter) glow.

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A Brief History of (Family) Vice

But the best parties are the ones you’re a part of.

And sometimes they’re just a party for 6, when you welcome son- and daughter-in-law, and your son and daughter, and your wife.

But the one-on-one time is always time to savor.

A typical night would begin with the benign. “Is it time?” he’d usually say, on his turf. Or me, on mine. “Sure,” I’d reply. His answer, more honest. With feeling. “Oh, good!”

The ritual: glasses. At his place, from the cupboard next to the fridge. The hooch, too. Usually, Macallan. But sometimes, in a pinch, a Glenlivet. Or Glen Fiddich. Even Johnnie Walker, something blended. “How bad could it be?”

At mine: our regular midget glasses. For juice. Now something stronger. Whatever stuff I’d convince him to try that trip. Eventually, usually, Laphroaig. “Froggy.” After my own early mispronunciation, badly remembering a scotch guide from Esquire, or some tripe. “PHROG” … not. But see? We grew into it.

The bourbons, he didn’t countenance much. Once rode along on a Saturday “honey-do” chore trip to Home Depot; snuck in a side trip to Meijer after. Ostensibly comparison-shopping for the good stuff. He came to tolerate something from his Iowa farmboy roots, Templeton Rye whisky, literally, “the good stuff.” A bargain at less than $40. And goes down smooth.

I don’t know when he bought his “kit.” The little silver-plated suitcase. Stocked with lighter after lighter. Sometimes a fancy butane “torch.” Oftentimes, not. But he swore by his wooden draw-poker contraption. “Want a ream?” he’d ask. I always did. And I swore by my “notch cutter,” instead of the straight guillotine cut. I had a black plastic cutter I’d picked up somewhere, in Chicago. I can still see his chrome metal one, with the wings you’d push on the side. I’d peel mine out of plastic; his came in a cedar sleeve… fancy. Fancier than the guys about to smoke ’em.

You know what they say about anticipation? Sweet anticipation. Sometimes sweeter than the thing itself, once it’s quickly done. (And too soon.)

We’d carry our glasses to the porch. Or, for a time, to my little firepit in the yard in suburban Bolingbrook. Pull up the rocking, swiveling metal deck chairs. Hose out the glass ashtray with the little indentations molded into it for cigars. Bring along the ice bucket — their cork-looking one with the cooler liner and lid; my silver cocktail one. Or else the big, red rubber cocktail cube makers, one of the best Christmas presents ever, from bro-in-law Jonathan. Something nostalgic in the ice bucket though — reaching in, coming out with dripping fingers, knowing that would buy you another 15 minutes, another drink. Who cares, cause you’re on vacation? Solving world problems, natch….

It’s not something I did, at home. Alone. Not regularly, anyway. Bought some cigars when my son was born in ’06. Took ’em to the old place of employment, the paper, Naperville Sun. Talked a few buddies from the newsroom into joining me on the concrete patio outside the cafeteria. First one with a kid. Straight puffing. Nothing to wash it down with. Few problems of the world to solve, and in broad daylight. Tried walking around the neighborhood one night after my book deal was signed; cigar in one hand, young man’s empty fancy in the other. Not the same.

Not the same.

On the porch we might talk about his Army days. How he’d never run, or camp, again. (Good riddance.) How he once had Robert James Waller, yes, of Bridges of Madison County fame, as a grad school economics professor. Sheee-it. Or the first time my wife had gotten gussied up for a middle school (or high school) dance. Or what the interest rates were like the time they bolted Sioux Falls for Kansas City. Or how his dad reacted to his boyhood antics: racing cars along the frozen Shell Rock creek, up beyond the Minnesota-Iowa border and back again, more or less in one piece.

As a young journalist, I talked Chicago garbage strikes and elusive mayors and the time a resident/source commented, “I thought I’d have heard about you buried in a concrete pillar by now.” First mortgage rates. Salary negotiations. Shared association of growing up in small towns. Interviews with unreformed Chicago “street gangs” as I wrote my book. And yeah, eventually, ad agency shenanigans and hirings and firings and the art of the pitch.

Time to relight. From the guttering flame. Take a deep draw. Breath out. Repeat.

Or, we’d bark in time to the neighbors’ “punt dogs.” Wave to the girls on the other side of the sliding glass door, inside. Check the score of KU. Or even fire up the laptop, tune in to a webcast of Ohio State versus Oklahoma. Versus Wisconsin. Wins. The full moon. A breeze getting colder. The dog shivering by the door. One last swallow. Time to head inside.

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Time to Head Inside… in a Little While

It’s gonna be a hard damn week. OK?

Just because we delay these things… you know? You know they eventually catch up to you.

And it’s not all bad. It’s just…. Just, it is. It is what it is. It’s the end of the night, the scotch is nearly gone, the cigar’s about out, and it’s time to bring it all inside and face the next day.

We forget all the problems we solved the night before.

But we have faith we’ll work it all out again.

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. What would have been his 67th. The first since he passed away, just short of two months ago. The first I’ve gone through the ritual without him. My place. My scotch. My remaining three cigars since we last settled in, with an H. Upmann I was proud to lend him, since he was in short supply, on his way out west into retirement, into the unknown.

I forget if that was one of the times we had Ohio State on my laptop this past fall. The win over Oklahoma. The win over Wisconsin. Probably later. Maybe not. But what does it matter? What matters: the time spent. That last time, shared. The ritual. The things said. Some remembered, some forgotten. But all of it: together.

This week, we grieve. We journey to visit old, cherished friends in Kansas City. In Olathe, proper. To remember. To celebrate. Then, on to Northwood, Iowa. His hometown. To lay him to rest in the embrace of family living and gone onward, ahead of us.

It’s a hard damn week.

It’s his birthday, today. I said that, I think. Sixty-seven years. Such a small number to bargain for. To hope for. To dream of, in the background, of all the conversations over all the sips and puffs and quips and stories. We never know how many lines we have left.

No matter what the ritual, the routine and warm embraces, the family we cling to. The times we count on. We remember. We forge on.

Tonight, I sit alone on a day that is growing late, and colder. Remembering. Ashing out in the glass tray I’d put away in the garage the last time he’d visited, before heading west. The remains of his cigar, from then, and mine.

My cigar’s about gone. The scotch… a few too many refills and almost drained. I’m shivering, typing. The battery meter’s about half gone. I’m rambling. The dog’s looking at me strangely. The motion-sensing porch light’s winking off.

Time to go inside.

Problems of the world? Ha. They go on. As we go on, in the light of morning. Older? Yeah. Wiser? Perhaps. But, and this I hope: fortified by the amazing light of all the people we have known and loved and lived through a time or a thousand with, in whatever minor verse or movement, carrying with us what we’ve learned and laughed through, putting the details to memory, however middling and ritualistic and taken for heavenly granted. We remember.

And that’s gotta be worth something, OK? That we were here. And shared it. And LOVED it. For our time. Right?

We gather up the bottles, and the glasses, and the warmth that’s left inside the nurturing garments we’ve knitted together with careless care, over the years, and we go on.

The world is smaller, the night colder, but we carry it and we go on.

OK.

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Categories: Foutz, Knutson, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zula Ley: Little-Known Fact #4


Ley Zula Robert Jr. 1918

A 1918 portrait shows my great-grandmother, Mary Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley, and her newborn son, my grandfather Robert Earl Ley Jr.

Tragic Death Tied to Flu Epidemic

When I started this blog, it was to share what’s most interesting to me about genealogy — the way the lives and personalities of our ancestors come to life in the stories we uncover.

At times those stories are tragic. Perhaps none more so than the story of my great-grandmother, Zula (Fisher) Ley.

Posts in the last weeks have shared snippets of her young life — acclaim for her acting in a senior play, notching a finalist finish in a national beauty contest, sneaking off to Wellsburg, W. Va. to marry Great-Grandpa Earl Ley.

These and other portraits show Zula as vital, intelligent, beautiful.

But her life is defined for her descendants by its tragic end, subject of the second post ever in this blog. It was front-page news in neighboring Dover: how the young wife, 24, of a prominent dentist passed away of influenza and pneumonia late on a Sunday night at home in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

An account in the hometown Daily Times, however, also ties Zula’s death to a sudden epidemic that winter.

The Feb. 2, 1920 edition, front page, broadcasts in bold headlines: FLU EPIDEMIC CLAIMS THREE; RED CROSS TAKES UP BATTLE. Whole Families are Reported Ill. Relief is Sought. Three Persons Die Over Weekend.

While influenza is fast enveloping New Philadelphia in a grip that claimed three fatalities Sunday and Monday the Red Cross is preparing to combat the epidemic with nurses.

Mayor E. N. Fair Monday as chairman of the influenza committee of the Red Cross was seeking a nurse for a family where help could not be obtained to take care of the ill.

Whole families are ill with the epidemic, and many patients were reported on the verge of death, Monday.

Young Wife Dies

Mrs. Mary Zula Ley, 24, wife of Dr. Robert E. Ley, Dover dentist, succumbed to influenza-pneumonia at 11:30 p.m. Sunday following ten days’ illness.

The death of Mrs Ley which occurred at the residence on West High street, caused widespread sorrow.

The husband and one son, Robert Earl, aged 16 months, survive.

Years later, with more information known about our family history, it is believed the hereditary presence of Factor V Leiden, which causes abnormal clotting of the blood, particularly in veins, may have contributed to Zula’s death.

Reported in neither paper was the stillborn death of her infant daughter, also named Mary on a separate death certificate.

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Categories: Ley, newsletter, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Nellie Irene (Johnson) Fitzgerald


Johnson Leonard Virginia Nellie

A pic of the oldest Johnson kids — Leonard, Nellie and Virginia — about 1916.

 

Prayers and hugs for the family of Great Aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald, who passed away on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

Her house was always a site for extended family gatherings, full of stories and hugs and ample quantities of comfort food. She was the last surviving sibling in a family that numbered ten: seven brothers, three sisters. They knew hard times, hopping from house to house in the interval between wars. They knew personal tragedy in the loss of wives, brothers, daughters. They served their country and communities. They knit tightly with family and helped each other through.

I know Nellie was particularly proud of making it to 99. I know we all wish she had made it a lot longer than that. And we’re proudest of knowing her.

Below is a slide show of collected images from a life well-lived. And a copy of her obituary. Rest in peace, Aunt Nellie.

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NELLIE IRENE FITZGERALD

Nellie Irene Fitzgerald, age 99, of Uhrichsville, O., passed away on Thursday, November 19, 2015, at Hennis Care Centre, following a lengthy illness.

Born September 4, 1916, at New Philadelphia, Nellie was the daughter of the late Charles and Viola (Palmer) Johnson.

Nellie was a homemaker and a member of the Uhrichsville First Presbyterian Church.  She was a 4-H advisor for 20 years, a Girl Scout Leader, volunteer at the Food Bank, Deacon of the First Presbyterian Church and a member of Homemaker of Union Township.

In addition to her parents, Nellie was preceded in death by her husband DeLoyce P. Fitzgerald, who passed away on June 28, 1985; a daughter Rosann Fitzgerald Kohler; two sisters and 7 brothers.

Nellie is survived by her son Jerry (Rose) Fitzgerald of Uhrichsville and daughter Sara Fitzgerald of Ocala, Florida; 4 grandchildren Pauline Kohler, Parrish (Sharon) Kohler, Katy Fitzgerald and Megan (Jason) McElory; 5 great grandchildren Amanda (Dustin) Martyn, Zachary Kohler, Josh Kohler, Emmitt McElory and Isaac McElroy; 2 great great grandchildren Harley Kohler and Bear Martyn.

Funeral services for Nellie will be held at 1 p.m., on Monday, November 23, 2015 at Uhrich-Hostettler English Funeral Home, Inc. in Uhrichsville with the Rev. Mark Unrue officiating. Burial will follow at Evergreen Burial Park in New Philadelphia.

Calling hours will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., (two hours prior to services) on Monday, November 23, 2015 at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Uhrichsville First Presbyterian Church, 633 N. Main St., Uhrichsville, O., 44683.

Categories: Foutz, Johnson, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Visit with Great Aunt Nellie | Repost


Colt Foutz Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt and his great aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald at her home in March 2011.

Hugs & Hospitality in the Home of Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald

Great Aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald passed away Nov. 19 at age 99. This post, from March 2011, recounts a visit.

I was once a quite enterprising reporter, so I should have known better.

Presented with the chance to spend an afternoon chatting with my Great Aunt Nellie, 94 years young as of last September, I fumbled around with my laptop, spent a good half hour busying my hands consuming trail bologna and deviled eggs and macaroni salad and the like, and utterly failed to pop open a notebook and record our winding conversation with anything more reliable than my own noggin.

Which will have to suffice.

We spent the day chatting in her home, site in the summertime of many a family gathering, afternoons filled with sunshine and pickup softball games and plenty of food and lemonade. There was snow on the ground this time, and a chill in the air. But the atmosphere inside was cozy.

Nellie still lives at home, with some assistance throughout the day, and frequent visits from her son, who lives just up the road a piece. She was also kept company, during our visit, by a former daughter-in-law (I think?) and a great-grandson. So the house was filled with conversation, and I found Nellie to be as delightfully frank, and sweet, and feisty, and fun as I remembered.

Johnson Leona Miller

My great-grandfather Charles Johnson’s first wife, Leona Miller, died shortly after they were married.

The Tragic Tale of Leona Miller Johnson

Nellie has some trouble getting around these days. She greeted us from her easy chair, and moved about the house with the aid of her “horse” — her walker.

We began our visit by flipping through old photos — everything I had stored up in my Family History Master folder on my computer. She confirmed some of the old relatives I was wondering about, including some beauties of my grandma Erma (Johnson) Foutz as a young teenager (see below), and chuckled at ones of herself shortly after her wedding to DeLoyce Fitzgerald and especially at one of her as a baby, posed with older sibs Leonard and Virginia.

“Oh,” she said (of the photo at the bottom of this post), “I forgot to wear my socks that day!”

Nellie’s house is decorated with scores of old photos and mementos. She was kind enough to have copies made for me of a portrait of my grandmother as a baby, and of my great-great grandparents Palmer (which I featured in yesterday’s post).

In her current bedroom hangs a very unique portrait — that of my great-grandfather (her father) Charles Johnson’s first wife.

Leona Miller and Charles married shortly after Valentine’s Day, 1907. She was 23; he was 20.

According to family lore, and retold by Nellie during our visit, Charles, a coal miner, came home one day, perhaps as early as the week they were married, and found Leona on her hands and knees, scarlet-faced, scrubbing the floor.

As he knelt down to tend to her, Leona collapsed. She died shortly after.

Charles returned to the home of his parents (as noted in the 1910 census), and wouldn’t remarry until 1911, when he wed a girl from nearby Dennison, my great-grandmother, Viola Palmer.

“When you think about it,” I knelt down to murmur in Nellie ear, “it’s a sad story, but without Leona dying, none of us would be here.”

“Oh,” Nellie said, the whisper of a grin on her face, “I don’t know.”

There’s not a lot we know about Leona beyond her fate and the image preserved above. According to the New Philadelphia cemeteries department, she is buried in the same plot as my great-great grandparents Clement and Anna Johnson, but I found no marker to indicate such during my stop at East Avenue/Evergreen the next day.

Erma Johnson Foutz

This picture of my grandma as a very young teenager was taken in 1933, when she was not yet 13. Scribbled on the back: “Camp Birch Creek, F-60, Dillon, Montana. C. 15-1 C.R.R.,” which we’ve determined was a WPA-era camp at which her brother Joe was spending the summer. Joe’s name was also written on this picture.

A Big Sister’s Take on a Boy’s Grandma

The part of me that deeply misses my grandma Erma since she passed away in 2000, and yearns to be able to visit her again, really felt fulfilled by seeing Aunt Nellie again.

I remember the time I’d seen her before, after the funeral of my grandma’s second husband, Max, hugging Nellie felt a lot like hugging grandma. And yeah, I miss that.

This time around, I was full of questions. Things I wished I had asked Grandma, growing up. Or had paid more attention to her answers.

Nellie confirmed the many addresses in New Phila her family called home over a period of 25 years. These moves were logged in war records, censuses, and the certificates recording three of her brothers’ untimely deaths.

I also wanted to hear about how my grandmother and grandfather met, if she could fill me in. I’d read in the article detailing their marriage announcement that grandma was a secretary in the offices of the steel mill, where my great-grandfather Foutz and two of his sons worked from way back. But my grandpa only joined the mill later on, after he’d spent years as a sales agent for the local Ford dealership.

So, how, I wondered, did a girl from New Phila end up mixing with a boy from crosstown Dover, and one some seven years her senior at that?

“Oh, your grandma got around pretty good in those days,” Nellie quipped.

“Oh, your grandma was beautiful,” one of her visitors gushed. “And a very nice lady.”

How can an enterprising reporter hold up, in the face of comments both sly and complimentary?

Palmer homestead Scio Ohio

Another view of the old Palmer homestead in Scio, Ohio as it appeared in March 2011.

Tracing the Tree Back — Johnson & Palmer Roots

Nellie was keenly interested in some of the stops on my genealogy tour, asking about the state of the Palmer homestead, where her mother grew up and generations of the family farmed before that.

She was more interested, though, in how my parents were doing, and my wife and kids. “They should come and see me,” she said. And who could argue?

The visit ended much too soon. And I felt, not for the first time, that I’d already crammed way too much into three short days. And felt the weight, in leaving, of not knowing how soon my path would wind back her way again.

But in the work of honoring our ancestors, there are still volumes rich with information to mine.

Nellie had shared with her daughter, Sara (who in turn helps spread the word and get the family tree in order on Geni.com and Ancestry.com), the tale of her grandfather, Thomas Johnson, a Civil War mule skinner who died on a march through Mississippi in 1864. And there is limited info to go on past that, but a definite location to dig into — Guernsey County, where the Johnsons seemed to have first set up shop in Ohio.

Other connections of the family to the great conflict between the states include that of Anna (Burkey) Johnson’s father, Joseph Burkey, a soldier in Company B of the 126th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Military records indicate he served from May 1864 through June 1865. I’ve visited his grave and snapped a picture there, but I’d love to hunt down a photo, and more info on his time in the war.

Meanwhile, Sara has traced the Palmer connection back through Harrison County farmfields and beyond, to the Balmers of 16th century Germany. A good, yawning gap of time to gape at, and wonder at all the ancestors — and their stories — in between.

Erma Foutz Miller Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt’s Grandma Erma and her older sister Nellie at his high school graduation, in 1994.

Johnson Leonard Virginia Nellie

A pic of the oldest Johnson kids — Leonard, Nellie and Virginia — about 1916.

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