Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rebecca Johnson

Rebecca Johnson was my great-great-grandmother. One of her daughters, Florence, had a daughter named Phyllis, who had my mother Wanda. has a feature on the profile page of everyone in a family tree; when you add an event with a date attached, it automatically displays the age the person was when that event occurred. I noticed today that Rebecca Johnson's profile listed her marriage in 1888 - when she was just fourteen years old. This is indicated by the 1900 U.S. Federal Census (click to enlarge):

There is the family living in Bradley Beach, NJ in 1900. The third-to-last column on the right is "number of years married;" Rebecca and George reported 12 years. Their oldest child, Helen, was eleven in 1900, and was therefore born the year following their marriage. The last two columns are "Mother of how many children" and "Number of these children living." As you can see, by the age of 26 Rebecca had already given birth to five children and lost one. This snapshot of her life is very meaningful to me, at twenty-two. I'm not married nor do I have children, and I cannot imagine the struggles and joys of this woman without whom I would never have been born.

Rebecca's maiden name and married name are the same. I don't know her parents' names but have been assured by family members that she was a Johnson before she married George Washington Johnson, who was eighteen at the time of their marriage. He died at the age of 56 in 1926. Rebecca at least matched his age; I don't know when she died but the 1930 Federal Census shows her living with her son Walter in Belmar, NJ.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Requiescat in Pace Mary Fetzer

Mary Boehm Fetzer, "Aunt Mary" to me, passed away tonight. She will be thoroughly missed by her husband and four children.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Mystery of the Youngest Harris Gammon

Presumably named after his great-grandfather Harris Gammon who fought in the Revolutionary War, the youngest of the three Harrises in my tree revealed to me that his life had been something of a mystery. These days with census records online, Harris had never been missing from my family history.

However, something that was simply a little odd to me turned out to be very important to his family. I didn't think it was terribly strange when, on the census records, Harris went from Eden, Iowa in 1885 to Aspen, Colorado in 1900, and then back to Eden in 1910. People move, right? The Gammons did it all the time. Then I came across this news clipping:

Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa
Thursday, January 23, 1902

HARRIS GAMMON arrived last week from Colorado to visit his brother WAYNE GAMMON and other relatives and friends. After an absence of fifteen years and not hearing from home for more than ten years, he finds many changes, but still many familiar faces. MR. GAMMON had long ago been given up as dead by his relatives and they are indeed glad to see his countenance once more, and in appearance he has changed but very little since leaving Leon.

Harris remained in Iowa with his family until his death in 1920, at which point he was interred in the family plot at Meek Cemetery.

The real mystery to me, however, is this: Why was he in Colorado for fifteen years? My guess is he went in for the last Colorado gold rush. If he did, it doesn't look like he came home rich. On the 1910 federal census he's living with his sisters Mary and Anne as well as a boarder. In the 1915 state census he's living alone, but by the federal census in 1920 he's listed with Mary and Anne once again.

James Wilkenson Gammon

In my previous post I discussed the Gammons that first moved to Iowa. Now I'd like to discuss my 3x-great grandfather James Wilkenson Gammon - a member of that family.


About James:
He was born in 1825 in Knoxville, Tennessee to Dozier Brawner Gammon and Lavina Turbeville. Two of his three older siblings had already passed away. He was followed by three younger brothers. When he was very young, around the year 1828, the family moved to Putnam, Indiana. In 1850, they moved again to Iowa.

James' wife, Armilda Eliza Myers, was born in Indiana but her family relocated to Iowa around the same time the Gammons did. The two married on November 19, 1852.

They had a son, Louis Larue, in 1853, and a daughter, Lydia Josephine, in 1855, followed by three more sons: Newton Franklin in 1856, Eugene Theophilus in 1858, and Bird Lafayette in 1859. By 1860 the family was living on a 160-acre farm in Eden, Iowa. Martha Jane was born in 1861, Catharine Melvina in 1863, Willis Wilkenson in 1865, Dozier Gaines in 1867, and Charles Thomas in 1869, By the time their last child, Lucius Wickliff Lee, was born in 1871, the homestead had grown to 240 acres.

James died on February 11, 1886 in Eden. He left behind his wife and eleven living children. By the time Armilda passed away on April 14, 1901, however, four of their children had also died: Newton in 1890, Lydia in 1891, Charles and Lucius in 1894. Of all their children, only Charles never married. Although Lucius and Lydia both married (Lydia married twice, actually), neither produced children. James and Armilda had a total of 19 grandchildren.


I am particularly attached to James Wilkenson Gammon because I love reading about him. What little I've found indicates that he was quite an interesting man. I have included some of these documents below, with my favorite tidbits italicized.

James' Obituary: 
DIED -- At his residence in Eden township, Decatur county, Iowa, February 11, 1886, James W. Gammon, after protracted illness of some four weeks with disease of kidney and liver which seemed to baffle the skill of his physicians. He was born in Knox county, State of Tennessee, June 16, 1825, and was in the sixty-first year of his age. He moved to Indiana with his father in the year 1828 and remained there till 1848, at which time he came to Iowa and settled in Wapello county, but shortly after, located in Monroe county, and in the year 1852 was married to Armelda E. Myers, and moved to Decatur county in the spring of 1854 and settled on the farm where he died. The fruits of his marriage were eight sons and three daughters all of whom survive him to mourn his death. All of his sons and one daughter and his wife was at his bedside when he breathed his last, which was as quiet as the sleep of an infant. He was a man of broad and liberal views and of positive convictions, was always willing to defend what he believed to be the truth, but charitable to all who might differ with him. Reason being his guide his desire was to so live that to rest with mother earth that those who should survive him might be better qualified to live in harmony with nature's laws. His wife has lost an ever kind and faithful husband, his children an affectionate and loving father, and the community a kind and obliging neighbor. His remains were followed to their last resting place, in Eden Prairie cemetery, by a large concourse of friends and neighbors, and was buried in compliance with his wishes, without any funeral ceremonies.

James' Biography:

JAMES GAMMON, deceased, son of Lovina and Dozier Gammon, was born in Tennessee, June 16, 1825, and removed to Indiana with his parents in 1828.  He was married in Monroe County, Iowa, November 4, 1852, to Armilda E. Myers, who was born in Montgomery County, Indiana, in 1829, and removed to Monroe County in 1850.  Her parents were Thomas and Eliza (Jones) Myers.  They removed from this State to Nebraska, where her father died, and where her mother still lives.  Mr. and Mrs. Gammon came to Decatur County in 1855, and settled on section 24, Eden Township, where his family still reside.  He died February 11,1886, aged nearly sixty-one years.  His family consists of his wife, eight sons and three daughters.  The four youngest sons are still at home.  Mr. Gammon was an honorable man and an upright citizen.  Politically he was a Democrat; religiously he was opposed to the churches, and denied the authenticity of the Bible, but believed in doing right at all times and under all circumstances.

(From Biographical and Historical Record of Ringgold and Decatur Counties, Iowa, (Lewis Publishing Company (1887)), p. 563)

The Gammons in Iowa

Dozier Brawner Gammon is my 4x-great grandfather. The line, without spouses and siblings, looks like this:

Dozier → James W. → Newton → James M. → Howard → James H. → ME!

His family looks like this:

Dozier and his wife Lavina did not have an easy life. They married in Knoxville, Tennessee when he was 25 and she was 26. In 1819 their first child, a son they named George Washington Gammon, was born there. In 1821 a second son, John W. Gammon was born. And then in 1823, a daughter - Minerva Jane Gammon. Sadly, she died that same year. The following year, John passed away at the age of three. From there, it seems their luck improved. In 1825, with only their eldest child still living, James Wilkerson Gammon was born. Another son, William Eaton Gammon, came in 1827. The family moved to Putnam, Indiana and two more boys joined the family - Hugh Gammon in 1829 and Lee Harris Gammon in 1832.

By 1850 three of the boys had married and George already had seven children. The entire family relocated to Decatur County in Iowa, which had become a state only four years earlier. Dozier bought up a bunch of land and so did some of his sons; they parceled it out amongst themselves and some renters and all settled on farms. James married in 1852 and by 1853 Hugh was the last brother to settle down.

The Gammon boys had a LOT of children out there on the farm. George and his wife Martha had eleven children, six boys and five girls. James and his wife Armilda also had eleven children, eight boys and three girls. William and his wife Caroline had seven children - five girls, a surviving boy, and a son that died in infancy. Hugh and his wife Evaline produced only three children - all boys. The youngest brother, Lee, had eleven children with his first wife Ema - five girls and six boys. Two of the boys died in childhood. He also acquired a young step-daughter when he married his second wife, Martha, after his first wife died.

That's a grand total of 43 biological children between five brothers - 40 that survived childhood, plus a step-daughter.

Let's put that into perspective. The farthest back I can find statistics for is 1890, by which point the youngest of those 40 kids was in his late teens. At any rate, in 1890 the average household size in America was 4.93 people - meaning you could expect a family with both parents living to have three children. The average American household these days is about 3 people - that's one child per family. By today's standards, those five brothers collectively had eight times the expected number of offspring. Do keep in mind, however, that they were living in an agricultural community, which would traditionally be expected to exceed the average - more kids means more help on the farm. I suspect this may still be true today, although I would be surprised to find a family of thirteen even in the middle of Nebraska.

In 1866 the house of Dozier Gammon was purchased by the county to form the Decatur County Home for the "feeble-minded" and "nonviolent insane." At the time this included orphans and the poor. I'm not sure where Dozier went to live after selling his home, though he only lived three more years. His wife had died in 1856.