Wife and Baby Left By Husband

CW: Talk of suicide, but it gets happier.

When I try new newspaper databases, I test how sensitive their search engine is by typing in the name of one of my uniquely-named relatives. This is the first article I saw when I plugged in one of my go-to names in an Evansville, Indiana database.

Find By Farmer May Tell Story of Another Suicide. Police at Work On the Case. Shoes, Trousers and Undershirt Are Found Four Miles Above the City. Absence of Hat Puzzles Officers - The Creek May Be Dragged. A suit of clothes found Tuesday on the banks of a creek four miles above the city are thought by the police to tell the story of another suicide. Who the owner of the clothing is is a mystery they have not yet been able to solve and the only clue they have is a card bearing the name of Fred Delgman. Mr. Delgman was seen by the police and denied all knowledge of the clothes that were found on the creek bank. A farmer discovered the pile of clothing Monday evening as he was going along the creek bank. He took the articles to the house and notified the police of his find Tuesday morning. Chief Heuke and Detective Hutchens went to the creek Tuesday afternoon and brought the clothing back to the city. The famer turned over to them a pair of trousers with suspenders attached, and undershirt and a pair of good black shoes. No hat or overshirt was found.
The officers were at first of the opinion that the clothes belonged to Coonroad Benner, who has been missing since Saturday, but an investigation by The Courier developed the fact that Benner wore a pair of tan shoes when he was last seen Saturday. The police are now of the opinion that the garments were worn by some one in the city who went to the creek with the intention either of committing suicide or taking a swim. That they have not been notified of his disappearance is doubtless due to the fact that it was a person who had no regular home or was in the habit of remaining away without notifying his family. The absence of the hat is one of the puzzling circumstances of the mystery and if it was not for the good quality of the shoes and clothing the police would be inclined to belief that they were discarded by some hobo. The place on the creek bank where the clothing was found is among thick timber and offers an ideal spot for any one who was seeking a place to end his life. The police will continue the investigation and will probably have the creek dragged.
“Clothing Found on Creek Bank,” Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN, 3 Jul 1901, p. 2, col. 4, par. 1

This sad story featured in the Evansville Courier in July 1901 is how I learned that my great-great-grandmother‘s, brother Conrad Benner, disappeared from his family.

Wife and Baby Left By Husband. Conrad Benner Strangely Missing Since Last Saturday. Wife Believes Him Dead. Had Been Out of Employment Some Time and Was Despondent. Police Accept Suicide Theory; Mrs. Benner Goes to Her Parents. Without a word of farewell or explanation to his family, Conrad Benner left his home at 205 West Maryland street Saturday afternoon and has not been seen since. His disappearance is shrouded in the deepest mystery and every effort of the police to find a clue to his whereabouts has so far been without result. The young wife he left in their little cottage with a year old baby waited until Tuesday afternoon for some news of her missing husband. Then she came to the conclusion that he was dead and packing a few articles of clothing for herself and baby, left for the home of her parents in Posey county.
Benner was never addicted to drink and had no bad habits. For some time he had been out of employment and was consequently considerably in debt. While he was of a jovial disposition as a rule he had been despondent for the last few days and had frequently talked of the debts that were piling up against him. His wife tried to get him to look on the bright side of life and endeavored to convince him that there was a better time coming for them all. Saturday he was engaged to tend bar at a saloon in Pennsylvania street and left home in apparently good spirits, after kidding his wife and baby goodbye. Sunday he did not return and Mrs. Benner became so uneasy that she asked the police to try and locate her husband. Benner moved to Evansville about three years ago and engaged in the saloon business in Fulton avenue. He did not make a success of the business and has had no regular employment for several months. Benner has a sister living in Fifth avenue. She is of the opinion that her brother ended his life on account of despondency at not being able to secure regular employment
“Wife and Baby Left By Husband,” Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN, 3 Jul 1901, p. 1, col. 3, par. 2

Two days later, Conrad is still missing.

Benner Still Missing. The police have not yet received information regarding the whereabouts of Conrad Benner. Benner left his home in West Maryland street Saturday night and has not been seen since.
“Benner Still Missing,” Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN, 5 Jul 1901, p. 3, col. 7, par. 3

So, what happened? Were his wife’s and sister’s beliefs true? Was he offered another job while he was working at the saloon on Pennsylvania street that he had to leave for without telling his wife? Did poor Conrad start drinking to dull his frustrations?

I couldn’t find any more articles on his disappearance, but you may be as relieved as I was to see this 1910 census record.

1910 US Census, Indiana, Vanderburgh County, Evansville Ward 04, District 114, p. 17, accessed in Ancestry.com

What a relief! This census record is definitely one of my favorite finds.


Lately I’ve noticed my grandpa following me on my walks. I see him lurking in gardens and near trees in my neighborhood. He likes to show himself just as I’m walking out of the halo cast by street lights.

And then I remember I’m wearing my Grandpa hat.

Two summers ago, during the fever dream that was the beginning of the pandemic, I stumbled into a real brick-and-mortar haberdasher in Traverse City, Michigan, and couldn’t resist the chance to reinvent myself. At first, I only considered buying familiar types of hats: baseball caps and beanies.

Those structured hats are for fuddy-duddies, I thought, looking at an aisle of fedoras, homburgs, and pork pies. Well, 47 isn’t exactly young.

A half hour later, a taller hat, dark gray, wool, with a short brim that flipped up in the back caught my eye. A trilby hat. It was more slick somehow than a common fedora, which sits low and has a thicker brim comparatively. I liked the cut of its jib. After buying it and bringing it home, it sat at the top of my closet for a year until one night early last month. I wouldn’t say it was raining exactly; it was somewhere between a mist and a spray. I needed something to keep my hair dry and the rain out of my eyes. Then I remembered the trilby.

I take walks right after work, and it gets dark in Chicago by 4:30 pm in December so the streetlights were shining bright that night. I passed under one and my shadow stretched out across my neighbors’ yards. The shape of my hat on top of my shadow comforted me. But I didn’t know why.

After a few more walks, I realized the hat topping my shadow reminded me of my grandpa. We have similar body types, though I’m a few inches taller. According to my cousins, I even look like him. But that’s not why I was comforted.

The thing is Grandpa H passed away when I was four. I have memories of him wearing hats at church, but can I trust them? I don’t actually know if he wore hats, let alone the trilby I am associating with him. But on that walk his memory came to me immediately. You know? I hadn’t thought of him in weeks and then I see my shadow and a warmth spread through my body.


Maybe my association of the hat to him is the kind of fused-together memory that happens when impressions of people are based on photographs. Like, I saw so many photos of my grandpa wearing trilbies that it was easy for my memory to plop them onto his head.

Or maybe, as the photo suggests, he didn’t wear hats at all. Maybe trilbies remind me of him because they are a symbol of his generation. As one of the few family members I’ve actually met, he is a foundation of all who came before him for me. Maybe I just needed to attribute something to him, and why not a hat? He was born in 1901, and the trilby was a popular hat for men of his age to wear during the 1960s and 70s. If my memory is correct, the photos I would have used to build my memories of him would have been taken in the 60s and 70s. It makes a sort of sense.

In any case, it was nice to feel him with me on that cold night in this isolating time. I keep wearing the hat on my walks, wind permitting, as an invitation for him to join me. As long as it sparks my memory, I suppose it doesn’t matter much if he wore one.

Puff Piece

I wanted to come back to this article.

Biographies in county histories are treasure troves of information, but after looking at a few write-ups of 1812 veterans, I spotted a pattern. Above, Captain Kelley is described as thrusting his sword between the spokes of a wagon wheel when he heard of Hull’s surrender of Fort Detroit.

Here’s are a few more excerpts of people’s reactions to Hull’s surrender:

Pioneers of Scioto County (Ohio) by James Keyes

Duncan McArthur/Wikipedia

Reading those parallel stories made me think about the circumstances surrounding Joseph’s biography.

  • It was written in 1886, sixty-four years after the events the biography describes.
  • The stories about Joseph’s father and brother were told third hand.
  • There might have been some incentive for the subjects of the biographies to add a little zing to their life stories to the detriment of truth.
  • All of the biographies I’ve read seem to flatter their subjects.
  • The tone changes as soon as Joseph’s life is mentioned.

So while the information in these articles is a great place to start, I researched other resources to back it all up. Turns out the Col. Denny mentioned was James Denny, who led a regiment in the First Ohio, but whose regiment was based in eastern Ohio. Not in western Ohio where the Kelleys lived. That doesn’t mean Abraham wasn’t his aide. It just means it’s less likely.


Early History and Pioneers of Champaign County (Illinois), Milton W. Mathews and Lewis A. McLean, pp. 61-62, biography of Joseph Thornton Kelley, Champaign County Herald, Urbana, Illinois, 1886. Accessed 12 Apr 2021 on Google Books (https://rb.gy/jdxala)

Pioneers of Scioto County (Ohio), James Keyes, pp. 2-4, biography of Claudius Cadot, no publisher listed, Portsmouth, Ohio. Accessed on 18 Apr 2021 on Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=l98yAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Duncan McArthur: The Military Phase, C. H. Cramer, pp. 128-147, Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, Columbus, Ohio. Accessed 18 Apr 2021 (https://resources.ohiohistory.org/ohj/browse/displaypages.php?display%5B%5D=0046&display%5B%5D=128&display%5B%5D=147)

The Kelleys, Father and Son

Imagine arriving home after two years of fighting in a war only to have your family send you away again to complete a devastating task.

That’s the story of my relative David Kelly or Kelley*.

In 1814, David arrived home near what is now Urbana, Ohio, after serving in the War of 1812. He walked in the door all Fred Flintstone-like with the wife and kids and pet stegosaurus running out to greet him. And after they all kissed and hugged, his young brothers put his coat back on his shoulders and shoved him out the door.

A cabin built in 1806 in London, Ohio, near where David Kelly settled. Source: Ohio History Connection

At the same time David was traveling, his father Abraham was also walking home from the war. Sixty five years old, the father of fourteen children, and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Abraham must have had some piss and vinegar for the Brits to have gone out to fight again.

There was a lot for him to be mad at. Decades after the Revolutionary War, British soldiers still occupied American territory. Britain was capturing American sailors, about 10,000 in all, and forcing them to work for the British cause. Some Native American tribes, rightfully concerned about land encroachment, allied themselves with the British to stop American land expansion. With multiple enemies, Americans found themselves fighting on several fronts: the Atlantic coast, the Canadian border, New Orleans, and the Midwestern frontier.

My people, David and Abraham Kelly, were probably walking home from the Michigan Territory, where the American colonel in charge of invading Canada from the west ran from British and Native American troops and surrendered Fort Detroit without a shot fired. How embarrassing.

An Ohio militia camp during the War of 1812. Source: Library of Congress

So that’s what David had just survived when he hit the road again, walking or riding southeast to Pickaway County, Ohio. 24 miles later, a farm owner showed David to the barn where he found the body of his father wrapped in a blanket. Not nearly as happy a homecoming as David had just received.

David Kelly, later in life

The following is an excerpt of the source article. It is a biography of Abraham’s youngest son and David’s little brother, Joseph.

*Probably. David Kelly is probably my relative. I don’t know how yet, but I’m linked genetically to three of his children and two of his brothers. It’s all a game of darts at this point.

Sources: Early History and Pioneers of Champaign County (Illinois), Milton W. Mathews and Lewis A. McLean, pp. 61-62, biography of Joseph Thornton Kelley, Champaign County Herald, Urbana, Illinois, 1886. Accessed 12 Apr 2021 on Google Books (https://rb.gy/jdxala)

War of 1812, Jeanne T. Heidler, Encyclopedia Brittanica article. Accessed on 21 Apr 2021 (https://www.britannica.com/event/War-of-1812)

“He is a coward”, National Park Service article, Department of the Interior. Accessed 21 Apr 2021 (https://www.nps.gov/articles/surrender-of-detroit.htm)

Catching Up

I’ve been absent lately because I’m finishing a degree. I hope to post regularly in April.

Let me record the little bit of research I’ve been doing.

I’m still plugging away at tagging by family group and noting the lineage of each DNA match with common ancestors. I know they’re not always correct, but doing so gives me a good idea of how I’m related to DNA matches who don’t have a tree attached or have a very abbreviated tree. I’m done with my mom’s matches. I only have 50 more for my dad’s. Again, I don’t research this information. I’m just recording names and possible relationships for when I do research.

Tagging family lines and noting the lineage also helps me get a sense of how I’m related to the fore parents whose exact relationship is unclear to me at this point. I’m thinking the Bashams and the Brocks in particular here.

A few weeks ago, a Romine cousin on my dad’s side mentioned she found a new surname she had never heard before, the Sivelys or the Scivallys. I offered to show her my files for them. When I looked in my Google Drive I realized that my documents for this family were from when I first started researching my family tree. That is, before I was careful about source information. I also hadn’t done any foundational work with the descendants of this line to make sure my connection to them was correct.

So I started going through the documents I have for my Romine great-grandparents, finding any missing records and filling in that individual’s timeline, especially for connective records, records that directly name my known relatives to their parents, siblings, and grandparents.

During this process with the Sivelys, I found myself building a spreadsheet to record a person’s census information through the decades, so the spellings of their name, their locations, and their ages are all in one place. I’m finding it pretty useful to pull up when I’m creating searches in search engines. It gives me a sense of how census takers may have misspelled names and solidifies the year ranges of births and deaths. It’s also good to pull up when analyzing ancestor records. I’ll give you an example: If all the censuses for Jane Doe say she was born in Washington state or Oregon between 1851 and 1855 and you’re looking at a Jane Doe record saying she was born in Florida in 1875, it’s probably not the right person.

I’m curious to hear other people’s methods of verifying their ancestors. As in, you pulled all the paperwork together from the shaky leafs in Ancestry and then you realized those hints aren’t always correct: cousins linked to people with similar names or relationships based on a name someone heard someone say was written in some family bible no one’s ever seen.

Do you know about Amy Johnson Crow’s WANDER method? Did it work for you?

Catherine and the Doubtful DNA

In a previous post, I said I was pretty sure my 3rd great-grandmother’s parents were John James and Julia Callaghan. DNA matches, weddings of their children occurring in the same frontier county around the time of Catherine’s wedding to Elliot Bellamy, and a discovery of one of John and Julia’s grandchildren, Jacob Butcher, living very near Catherine in Harrison County, Missouri in 1860 led me to that conclusion.

But since discovering the neighbor cousin, I’ve been trying to gather evidence for their connection. And I can’t.

I searched all of my shared matches with descendants of John and Julia and found inconsistencies. First, most of the descendants of John and Julia James I share DNA with don’t share DNA with each other.

Second, some of the John and Julia descendants share DNA with the Bellamys, Catherine’s children from her first marriage, but they also share DNA with descendants of Jacob and Daniel James, Catherine’s second husband and her brother-in-law, both of whom are my third great-grandfathers. (The Jameses were fond of intermarriage.)

Third, I found that while I had many DNA hits with John James’s parents, I had none with Julia Callaghan’s. Looking at the Thrulines tree, it was just a one-way track from her parents down to me with no branches shooting off. That’s never a good sign when you’re talking about a woman who lived 250 years ago and had many siblings. Now, it’s possible that none of the descendants of Julia’s brothers and sisters have taken DNA tests, but it’s unlikely. The further back a couple lived, the higher the number of descendants there are to match, and Julia was born in the mid-1700s.

This one-sided DNA trail means that I’m likely not a descendant of the couple. Since I share DNA with both of John’s parents though, I am likely a descendant of one of his siblings.

The fact that descendants of Catherine, and Jacob and Daniel James all share DNA with descendants of John James makes me think that the three of them were related. (Yet, another case of the Jameses keeping it in the family.)

I also noticed while looking at DNA matches to descendants of the Bellamy children the abundance of matches to an Obediah Basham, whose father was named Bartlett Angel Basham. Could Catherine’s youngest son, Bartlett Bellamy, be Bartlett Angel Basham’s namesake? Looking through the History of Gallia County book online, I noticed that Angels were founding settlers of Gallia County. They, along with the Bashams, came from Bedford County, Virginia, same as Catherine. So I can place the Jameses, Bellamys, Bashams, and Angels there and prove they traveled together to Gallia County at the same time.

History of Gallia County, H. H. Hardesty, Chicago and Toledo, 1882, page XX; Accessed on Hathi Trust 11 Oct 2020. Click image for link.

Kitty and the Suspicious Neighbor

So I have this theory. My third great grandmother, Kitty James, pops up in records in 1817 when she marries a guy named Elliott Bellamy in Gallia County, Ohio. So I look around Gallia County for Jameses in 1820. I find a few old men who fit the bill: a guy named John and a guy named Bartlett. Both are old enough to have a daughter Kitty’s age. My theory is one of these men is Kitty’s father.

I plug both John and Bartlett James into my family tree to get DNA hits from my dad’s and my tests. No hits come up for Bartlett, which is surprising because Kitty named one of her children Bartlett. For John, I get 13 DNA matches from three of his children. My theory tightens to John James is Kitty’s father.

Next I research John’s family top-down, meaning I start with John and his wife and then research his children and grandchildren, recording who they are and where they settled. I’ve been digging into this family for few months now.

Okay, you’re caught up, but if you’re a family member or a curious reader who wants to know more, read this.

I was looking into the family of the sister of John James, one of the two men living in Gallia County in 1820 with the last name James. This sister happens to have the same exact name as my third great grandmother. For the sake of clarity, I’ll call her Catherine, and I’ll stick to calling my third great grandmother Kitty.

Catherine married Adam Butcher and lived for most of her life in Pike County, Ohio. As part of my research process, I plug their names in Google and find this old page from a forum on genealogy.com.

Now this is a long list of Butcher family members. As I scrolled down the page, I saw many listings for Harrison County, Missouri. That piqued my interest because Catherine and her family settled in Harrison County in the 1860s or so.

I conducted searches in Ancestry for Butchers living in Harrison County, Missouri, and found a large number of them living in Cypress Township on the southern border of the county. Kitty and my family lived in Clay Township along the northern border.

I looked into Kitty’s census records next. Look who I found on the NEXT PAGE after Kitty’s family’s listing:

Jacob Butcher is the son of Adam Butcher Jr, who is the son—you guessed it—of Catherine James Butcher, John James’s sister! So Jacob Butcher is the son of Kitty’s suspected first cousin.

Looking at the 1876 Plat map of the county, I can see how close the Jameses and the Butchers lived. The red circles are the houses. The yellow is just highlighting their names.

They lived really close to each other. Right?

How much of a coincidence could it be that a member of the family I suspect to be Kitty’s happens to live across the creek from them in 1876 in a different county in a different state that where they originated?

This is an exciting discovery. I think I’m on the right track.

Now I am researching Kitty’s other neighbors.

I know. My last blog post was about how I’m resisting starting a HYOOJ project to distract me from my troubles.

I’m only researching the neighbors listed 2 pages before and 2 pages after Kitty and her family. I’m hoping to find more connections.

Clean Slate

Am I the only one who wants to start huge new genealogy projects whenever I’m stressed out with other responsibilities?

Lately, I’ve found myself resisting the urge to start new, clean family trees for my four grandparents in Ancestry. My main Ancestry tree has some people in it who I’m not sure are my relatives. I plugged some ancestors whose relationships to me are theories into that tree because it’s connected to my and my parent’s DNA tests. Then, the theoretical entries will pull up shared DNA matches with others who have taken the DNA test, and those matches give me a good idea that my research is headed in the right direction.

Here’s an example. Say I have three couples who could be the parents of my ancestor. I plug each couple into my family tree one at a time, give it a day or two for the Ancestry algorithms to notice the change, and if Ancestry populates my DNA results with shared matches to one of the couples I know that if those folks aren’t directly related to me then they are relatives at least.

Also, my Ancestry tree is my oldest tree. It has tons of connections I made very early in my research (read in: rookie mistakes). So I wouldn’t mind revisiting all of the relatives I found early and using my experience to build up more evidence that I have the right people.

For the past year or so, I’ve been researching two specific ancestors with laser focus—-making timelines, expanding their FAN club, checking less frequented genealogy sites—-and I figure starting with fresh family trees would help me keep track of who I’ve researched in this way. This could codify my new approach to research, and help me feel more confident when I start looking at international records.

But it’s always been my nature to want to start things fresh. As a kid, all of the pages in my coloring books were half finished. When my parents asked me why I never finished a page, I’d say I didn’t like a color I used or the brush strokes in two different segments didn’t match. Some might call me a perfectionist; I think I have a strong sense of vision.

Probably I’m wanting to tackle this now to distract me from everything that’s going on in the world. It would give me a sense of order and control that the world is not giving me. But I know my priorities lie with relationships, work and school right now. So I’m writing it here to remember it and maybe I’ll get to it when things calm down.

And I didn’t even mention the exciting new genealogy blog idea I had last week.


All in good time.

Gretna Green marriages

Many of my Harburn relatives got married in Angola, Indiana, in the early 1900s. As life-long residents of Flint, Michigan, I always wondered why my grandparents and their siblings drove the two hours through southern Michigan, crossed the border, and got hitched in the furthest northeastern corner of Indiana.

It was especially bewildering because my grandparents, according to all sources, were not travelers. They moved exactly twice while they were married: from a farm into town, then down the street. They liked their town, church, neighbors, and home just fine. Thank you very much.

I’m sure I’m behind the times here, but I just learned about Gretna Green marriages, also known as marriage mills. Named after a town just over the English border in Scotland, Gretna Green became a haven for young English couples who did not want to jump through the hoops the English parliament made young couples jump through, including waiting x amount of time and spending x amount of money at the church for the ceremony. Scotland, on the other hand, allowed simple ceremonies with little political bureaucracy to hinder young lovers.

After I learned the term, I looked up “Gretna Green locations in the United States” and discovered that Angola was a common marriage location for people in southern Michigan. In fact, by the 1950s, Steuben County, where Angola is located, was issuing 1,000 more marriage licenses a year than Marion County, where Indianapolis is located.

Now my grandfather was 33-years-old when he married it 1934, working in his parents’ florist shops. My grandmother was a school teacher. I don’t think they were hurting for cash so much as wanting a quiet and simple ceremony. They had a huge family. Having known them personally, I can’t imagine they’d have wanted a big fuss.

1. HistoricUK.com. [https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/Gretna-Green/: Accessed on 15 Jul 2020.
2. Indiana Genealogy Society, Publications. [http://www.indgensoc.org/publications/email_alerts/2018/2018_02.pdf: Accessed on 15 Jul 2020]
3. Nelson Harburn and Bernice Wilson marriage certificate. Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959, Steuben: 1934-1934, Volume23, Image 78 of 324. Accessed on FamilySearch.org 19 Jul 2020.