Grace Foutz Chaney’s Happy, Distant Life
In this ongoing series, we’re taking a crack at solving some of the mysteries surrounding the family of Sherman Foutz, my great-grandfather Vance Foutz’s oldest brother.
A recent research binge on newspaperarchives.com blew open a couple doors I thought, given Pennsylvania’s reputation for white-knuckle-gripping its vital records, would probably stay shut fast.
An illuminating source, as ever, are the obituaries of relatives past. And just in case information is incomplete (or wrong) in the final record of our dearly departed — as was the case in Sherman Foutz’s 1915 obituary, the one clipped and saved for 100 years — it always pays to check the initial “extra” to readers of the day or so before — the death announcement.
If I could offer one genealogy lesson — though stories are the point of this blog — it’s that starting from the end of a life often yields the richest clues to an ancestor’s entire life. Obituaries done right, at least the way I was taught as a cub reporter at the Sandusky Register (egad, a decade and a half ago), serve up all the pertinent birth, marriage and death dates; spouses, children, parents, siblings, (living and dead); occupations, places lived, war record; and all the various memberships and associations that make up a life in brief.
A treasure trove, if you can get at it. And hoping, of course, the newspaper chronicling the lives of your loved ones hasn’t adopted the same abbreviated style as, say, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which hadn’t changed its basic name, died, funeral date and place format in the 98 years between my great-great grandfather Morgan’s death in 1897 and the death of his granddaughter in 1995.
But here I go burying the lead.
Fewer links ahead, promise, and a thorough peek into the life of Sherman’s daughter, Grace Foutz Chaney.
A Return Home to Ohio
The central tragedy for Sherman Foutz’s family was his early death, at 47, of tuberculosis in 1915. Following that, the first of our Foutzes to leave the farm in Harrison County, Ohio, attend college and work in the big cities of Washington D.C. and Reading and Harrisburg, Pa., essentially split up.
Eldest daughter Grace marries that December in a West Virginia county neighboring the one a lot of our other relatives seemed to elope to (probably a story in itself). She lives the rest of her life not with her mother, Elizabeth Foutz, or step-sister Catherine, back in Harrisburg, but with husband Fred Chaney in Uhrichsville, where she works as a school teacher.
They never have children. They never leave Uhrichsville. And they have an odd propensity for consistently lying about their ages. In fact, Grace’s gravestone is off by the same incorrect six years as most of the censuses, which made her, for a time, the same age as the six-years-younger Fred, and which was maybe their point in fibbing.
But never fear: Grace’s 1970 obituary finally gets her age right, and spills the details about a lot of her life. We learn Fred precedes her in death by 15 years. Older brother Oscar is also listed as deceased. Then there are the tantalizing hints of “several nieces and nephews” and that foster sister, Catherine Rutt, whom we haven’t found out a lot about yet.
The obit offered a lot of details. But at the time I discovered it among my great-grandfather’s things a few summers back, the usual parade of questions marched along:
- When did brother Oscar Foutz die? Preceded could mean a couple years earlier, or as far back as the 1910s, when he suddenly stops being counted among his mother’s residence, where one son, Ralph, resides. The other, Harry Sherman, as well as Oscar’s wife, Florence Hartman Foutz, are also lost to history (But more on them soon.)
- Why did Grace marry an Ohio man just eight months after her father’s death? Where and how did they meet?
- Why did Grace suddenly and emphatically live so far removed from her widowed mother, young foster sister and the remnants of her brother’s family in Pennsylvania?
- And, living as she did just a dozen miles south of her extended family (my own) in Dover, Ohio, did she maintain connections with the greater Foutz clan?
On this last point, the written record seems to suggest Grace knew about Vance Foutz’s family in Dover and kept up with my great-grandfather, her uncle in family relation, but really just three years her senior and one year Oscar’s, an accident of the 20-year span between bookend brothers Sherman and Vance. In fact, when preteen Vance, Oscar and Grace lived together in Washington D.C. about 1900 (family lore has recorded that Sherman got his youngest brothers John, Charley and Vance jobs in the postal department), they were likely more playmates than proper uncle and nephew and niece. That Vance’s and Grace’s birthdays were also close together (hers, Sept. 5, 1890; his, Sept. 7, 1887) could also have been a fun circumstantial bond.
A few years after Grace died, later in the 1970s, Vance’s daughter-in-law, my great-aunt Louise Foutz, was trying to piece together family history with my grandparents and great-aunt Doris Foutz Waddington. Louise counted, among her father’s known siblings, a brother, Charles, and at least two sisters — Mrs. Sam Hathaway, of Bowerston, and Mrs. Thomas Moreland, of Carrollton. …:
Also a brother Sherman that we know little about, and possibly another sister (Louise wrote). … I went to Pop’s sister’s funeral when I was pregnant with Donna. A Frank Coleman used to visit often, and a niece that lived in Urichsville (sic.), and some red-haired nephews from Canton. Neither Doris or I remember names.
The red-haired nephews likely belonged to Charles Foutz, who died of pneumonia in 1918 at age 32, leaving a wife and four children behind. (More on them soon!) The niece is most likely Grace. An examination of great-grandpa Vance’s funeral guest register shows the shaky hand of 78-year-old Grace Chaney as present.
Pity, then, that no one from my grandparents’ generation remembers Sherman’s dynamic daughter. Fortunately, a newspaper article from the same Times-Reporter, a year before her death, tells more of Grace’s story.
Devoted teacher, never tested for teaching license
A January 25, 1969 feature entitled “Wonderful Life…” details Grace Foutz Chaney’s childhood and education, her marriage to Fred, her teaching career and the ways she lived out her days in Uhrichsville.
Read the whole article by clicking the thumbnail below.
- Born in Bowerston, by the first grade Grace Foutz attended school in Washington D.C., “where her father was connected with the printing department of the federal government.”
- After the family’s move to Reading, Pa., she attended private girls’ school and, like her father, became active in the Knights of the Maccabees.
- At 15, having just completed 8th grade, she took a “sub-Freshman” test and was granted admission to Irving College.
- Though Grace never properly graduated high school, she spent 5 years at Irving, graduating with a “bachelor of science degree for teaching, Latin, English and problems in democracy.” She was also granted a teaching license in Pennsylvania.
- Grace was granted a teaching certificate in Ohio (as well as 2 lifetime certificates for teaching grade and high schools) and taught for 40 years in Dennison, Tuscarawas, Harrison County, Conesville and Feed Springs. She never served as a substitute, only taught full-time.
The article also details some family highlights, even if the facts seem dubious or outright incorrect.
On brother Oscar, the article reports him as having died in 1945. An interesting — though perhaps false — match to mother Elizabeth’s death year.
As to husband Fred Chaney, the article reports Grace met him when she returned to Ohio for her grandmother’s funeral “in May 1916.” The death of Rebecca Foutz may, indeed, have been the occasion Grace and Fred met, but sources tell us Rebecca died in May 1915, same year as Sherman, and same year as Fred and Grace’s marriage that December.
The article shares Fred’s occupation as railroad conductor, and gets his death right, in September 1955 (coincidentally, on Vance’s birthday). And shares the location of their first shared, and later, Grace’s solitary residence in the Nicola Building at 3rd and Water streets.
Grace’s wonderful life, though illuminated in interesting ways, still is in many ways a mystery. But with some of the clues revealed there, we fill in a few more blanks. More answers to come.