Click the links for a biography of William Matthew Harburn and Jane Leary.
Category: Family History
A Career of a Lifetime
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when someone could start a career after high school and stay with that career until retirement. I say that because I’m in my mid-40s and am going on Career Change #3 due to rapidly changing technology. Career longevity just isn’t as easy to attain or as respected today.
Clearly that wasn’t the case for my maternal 2nd great-granduncle, Samuel Porterfield. He was a farmer in Shiawassee County, Michigan, when he married his first wife, Abbie Niver, in 1887. He and Abbie had a daughter soon after, but unfortunately Abbie passed away in 1895.
By the time Samuel remarried in 1896, he was a minister in Elsie, Michigan. From there, his family transferred between several Free Methodist churches around the Lansing area, and even back to Sanilac County where he had been born in 1866. He was appointed briefly to a church in Flint, but seemd to stick mostly to small towns. I know today pastors have little say in which church they are sent, but I’m not sure how it worked then.
Going through the records of the larger Porterfield clan, it’s clear the family expected his nieces and nephews to be married by him. He married my great-grandparents, Fred Wilson and Minnie Porterfield, in 1906 even though he lived three counties away at the time.
In 1935 he was the pastor at a church in Macomb County, Michigan. But by 1940, the reverend was retired and living in Clinton County where I believe he began his career. He died just four years later at the age of 78.
That’s over 40 years of serving various communities from the age of about 22 to 69. I can’t imagine having the same job for that long. I admire his dedication and how he clearly knew what he wanted to do from a young age.
Staying In Touch
For the longest time, the name Ann Lemunyon was the only clue I had to find the parents of my 2nd great-grandmother, Lucy Thompson Wilson.
Ann appears as a widowed mother-in-law on the 1900 census in Lucy’s household, but no Lemunyons live near them in the 1900 or 1880 censuses.
It’s nice that their relationship was strong enough for Lucy to house her mother after her mother lost her husband, but why was she nowhere to be found on other censuses?
Lucy passed away in 1907, her husband lived alone after, and in the 1910 census there were no listings of Lemunyons in the area. So looking in records after Lucy died was no help. So I decided to review Lucy’s facts to figure out who her parents were.
It’s no surprise that Lucy lived with her husband Ambrose Wilson after her marriage in Flushing, Michigan, in 1873. In the 1870 census, I found her as a 15 year old working as a domestic servant for a wealthy family in Flint. Many other Thompsons are listed near her in the city, of course, but I had no way of telling which were Lucy’s people. All of these censuses listed New York as Lucy’s state of birth. More specifically, Lucy’s wedding record states she was born in Washington County, New York, a rural area along the Vermont border. That sent me to scour the 1860 census there for Thompsons.
I didn’t find any Lucy or Ann Thompson, unfortunately, but I did find this family halfway across the state.
Demmon? Lucy’s father’s name is Demon? That must be the census taker mishearing his name. At least I hope so. Still, this record was promising, and their presence near Rochester gets them closer to the Flint area where I know Lucy ended up. But know that I have an idea of Lucy’s father’s first name I could dig deeper into the Washington County records.
Dinsmore? Well, it’s better than Demon, I guess.
Okay, so the children’s names were the same as the Thompsons in Monroe County, NY. It really looked like I found Lucy’s people. But how did we get from Ann Thompson in Union, New York, to Ann Lemunyon in Flint, Michigan?
Years passed with that question unanswered. But then I found Lucy’s obituary.
Finding out that Lucy’s family lived to Decatur, Michigan, about 150 miles southwest of Flint, was the key in following Ann’s journey. In the 1880 census, she lives with James Beardsley in that county. I cannot find a marriage record for them. Then I found she married Myron Lemunyon in that county in 1892. She died just a few months after Lucy’s passing, but it seems they kept close contact despite the many miles that separated them. Here are just two of many newspaper reports.
In the Soup
Louis Clayton James is my great-granduncle who went on to marry at least three other women after his first two wives, Elizabeth Casebolt and Ella Kissell.
There was a time when every sports page in Michigan splashed the uncommon name Harburn across its front page. My granduncle, Ivan, was the amateur champion.
Ivan represented an amateur boxing club in Flint that was somehow affiliated with the auto factories. He was the featherweight champion for all of 1933, appearing in over 30 newspapers around the state. But his reign was to be short-lived.
The idea of a Harburn man fighting confused me at first. I don’t remember the Harburn men being especially brawny. I know from naturalization papers and draft cards that none of the Harburn brothers were taller than 5’8” or weighed more than 150 lbs.
(All images from the Detroit Free Press, 19 Feb 1933 through 8 Feb 1934, accessed through newspapers.com 19 Feb 2022)
Throughout my research, I try to keep in mind that the lines on maps were just fields, lakes, and rivers to our ancestors. Not every significant boundary was marked with a Welcome To or a Now Entering sign back then. Crossing a boundary was just taking another step in a long journey.
By the same token, national identity, in some cases, was just a matter of which part of their lives our ancestors decided to cling to, past or present. Did a person’s national identity change as soon as they crossed the border? What about after they live in a new country for 10 years? Twenty years? At what point does an ancestor claim their new nation?
Take my Porterfield ancestors.
In the 1940 census toward the end of his life, George Porterfield, my 2nd great-grandfather, lived in Flushing, Michigan. He is listed as having been born in Canada, his father in Scotland, his mother in Canada. The citizenship column on the census indicates that he was naturalized as an American at some point. So I guess he was Canadian with some Scottish influences.
In the 1870 census, George was living with his family in Sanilac County, Michigan, across Lake Huron from Ontario. He was 11 years old at the time. His father Charles Porterfield reported that they emigrated from Canada around 1864 when George was 5, and that Charles himself had emigrated from Lanarkshire, Scotland, when he was 20 or so. He was a Scot living in America via Canada. His son George probably had little memory of Canada. So then he was American with strong Scottish ties.
George’s mother, Sarah Peasley Porterfield, passed in 1912 in Shiawassee County, Michigan. On her death certificate, she is listed as being born in Canada, likely near London, Ontario, but her father William Peasley was born in New York and her mother Delilah Pear Peasley was born in Vermont. So I guess Sarah identified as Canadian with strong American influences.
Looking further back, the Peasley line was living near Salem, Massachusetts, at the time of the witch trials. My 7th great-grandfather John Peasley married Mary Weed Martin, the granddaughter of Susanna North Martin, who was executed as a witch in 1692. That’s 4 generations of American ancestors before Sarah Peasley and her family settled in Canada. I’d bet they identified as American.
Looking at this line, I wonder if the Peasley-Porterfields ever considered themselves Canadian. Yes, Sarah was born in Canada but her parents had long histories in New England. She married a Scottish immigrant. And they had children in Canada but they didn’t stay long enough for any of them, including my direct ancestor George, to remember.
Their time there seems more like a blip. An effect of geography: Ontario lies between New England and Michigan, so in order to get to Michigan the family had to plant themselves temporarily in Canada.
The Branching Out Technique
In my small group of family researchers, I’m known for discovering new branches of our family tree using DNA matches.
Before you dismiss me for sounding too big for my britches, I freely admit that I usually can’t figure out our relationship to these new ancestors, but I’ve gotten lucky a few times and connected foremothers’ maiden names, solving some long-standing brick walls.
I found one of these missing branches this week, so I thought I’d explain my process with the hope of others knocking down their brick walls.
I find my DNA-match process works best with an ancestor’s half-brother or half-sister, that way I know the match is only through one common ancestor.
My 2nd great-grandmother Rachel Boyt Grace is a good example. I descend from the daughter of Rachel and her second husband Ambrose Grace. Her first husband was a McGinnis who died very young. Rachel and the McGinnis man had one daughter together, Mary. I’ll focus on her.
As you can see, I match one of Mary’s descendants. Let’s call her “Susan.” I click into Susan’s profile and then click into our Shared Matches, people who have taken a DNA test who share the same chromosome segments that Susan and I share. I guess you could call this the Branching Out Technique.
Here’s what I see next:
These first two shared matches with Susan are through Willard Grace, Mary McGinnis’ and my great-grandmother Fannie Grace Romine‘s brother. I know this from prior research. Perfect. That makes sense. If, for example, the strongest matches were to another family in my tree instead of the Graces, I would definitely need to double-check my work.
Moving further down my list of shared matches, I see nine people who share between 20-66 centimorgans (cMs) with me. I’ll explain why that’s important in a second.
Next, I open each of the nine profiles in a new tab and scroll and/or click to their public or unshared family trees. I close out the tabs of any DNA matches without a tree or with skimpy trees. Those matches aren’t going to help here. So my nine shared matches with Susan have now tapered down to six. That’s not too much work.
I also don’t bother with matches who share fewer than 10 cMs with me. Chances are their family trees wouldn’t include our shared family names because our shared ancestors are so far back. But that’s not an issue with this DNA match.
Then I examine the family names on each of the trees and look for common surnames. There are a million ways to do this. My preferred method is to note down the last names of each of their great-grandparents, keeping them in loose alphabetical order and paying attention to surnames that could be alternate spellings, such as McGinnis and MacInnis.
Doing this with the shared DNA matches with Susan, I found three people who claim to descend from the Tweedy or Tweedie family living in Union County, Illinois. This is especially interesting to me because I know that my great-grandmother Fannie and Mary McGinnis were both born in that county.
Figuring out that the three Tweedy families were connected was just a matter of finding one of them on the FamilySearch shared trees.
Once I have a lead like this, I like to go back to my DNA matches page in Ancestry and plug in the wives’ last names into the “Shared Surname” field and the location in the location field. For example, Singleton Tweedy above was married to Parmelia Zimmerman, according to FamilySearch and Ancestry trees. So I did a search in my Ancestry DNA matches that looks like this:
I didn’t get hits on this search, but I do it to see if I’m related to both sides of the family. Since three of my shared matches with Susan are descendants of Tweedys, I can be fairly confident that the Boyts/Graces and the Tweedys intermarried somewhere along the timeline. Researching the wives’ names gives me a feel for how far back the Tweedy connection may go. If I find DNA matches to one of their wives, the couple’s relationship to me may be more immediate.
Is any of this bonafide research? No. But it’s a lead I didn’t have before.
In the future, I can look for marriages between the Boyt (since I know Mary McGinnis and Fannie Grace only shared one parent, Rachel Boyt) and Tweedy families. And like I said, I’ve been able to nail down some maiden names using this technique.
Let me know if this was helpful. Is anyone else out there doing research this way?
Box No. 14
When asked to name her brother’s mother, my great-grand aunt Amnier Craig gave the person filling out the death certificate her own mother’s name.
Nothing earth-shattering there, right?
But Box #14 took me several years to unravel. And what’s more frustrating is the answer was in front of me all along.
Here’s the family in the 1910 Census.
I see the clues in this entry now, but when I first came upon it I was new to genealogy. Everything here seemed to check out. Luela had six children born to her, and six children were listed: Arrah, Iva, something very loopy and small that I know now is Amnier (clearly the census taker heard it spoken and had no idea how to write it), Lobr, Dela, Clyton, who I knew was Albert Clayton Romine, my great-grandfather. Six clearly listed, if oddly named, children. “Roborn,” the crossed out last name next to “Lobr,” appeared to me to be a mistake. The number 4 in Luela’s row indicating only four of her children were still living, the strange order of the children’s names, that is, younger over older, and the three children listed who were older than the marriage hadn’t register to me. Clearly, Luella Cunningham was my great-grandmother.
Looking further, I couldn’t find a marriage record for Edward and Luella, but I did find another.
In 1894, E. T. Romine (Edward Tennessee Romine) married Fannie F. Gun in Stoddard County, Missouri, the county just north of Parma. This must be them.
- The date was appropriately timed before the first child’s birth
- The location was right
- The names were close: “Gun” could be a mishearing of Cunningham
- Fannie was a sort of catch-all nickname for several women’s names – Why not Luella?
I found the family in the 1900 Census.
Look at that. The ages for Fannie and Luela are the same: born in 1875. One was born in Arkansas and the other Illinois, true, but the birth states for her parents are very similar: Illinois/Tennessee and Tennessee/Illinois. Not sure why the child “Lobr” wasn’t with them here; she should have been 7 years old. Oh well. Maybe she was staying with granny when the census taker came.
I continued collecting censuses for the Romines and moved on.
Years passed. One day while researching Edward Romine’s parents, I looked at the first page of this same township in the 1900 census.
The top lines are Edward’s parents, Samuel Romine and Sisley Scruggs Romine. The families highlighted at the bottom have the last name Grace. In the marriage license record above Fannie’s last name had been indexed as “Gran,” so this family stood out. I looked a little into Ambrose and Rachel’s story.
In the 1880 census, I learned that Ambrose Grace and Rachel Boyt Grace had a daughter named Fanny who was born in 1875. Her parents’ states of birth matched those listed on the 1900 census, which was the only other document I could find of her besides her marriage license to Edward.
I went back to that 1910 census and saw that “Lobr” was born before “Fannie/Luela” had married Edward, which caused a search for Romine and “Roborn,” which was Lobr’s last name crossed out.
In September 1901, an E. F. Romine married an L. E. Rayborn in Stoddard County. All signs were pointing to Fannie and Luella being two different people, and that Fannie Grace Romine was my great-grandmother.
I searched and searched for more information on Fannie, but the two censuses and the marriage record appear to be all there is.
Given that Fannie falls off the record after 1900, Edward and Luela marry less than a year later, and Amnier listed Luela as Clayton’s mother all those years later, I have to believe that Fannie died between the 1900 census and Edward’s second marriage. She is the ancestor I am most curious about because I have the least information about her. Who would Clayton name as his mother? Did he and his sister remember Fannie, if she was indeed their mother? Did they have any relationship with the Grace family?
I got a kind of answer when I ordered Clayton’s application for social security.
Filling In the Blanks
I don’t know the stories of most of the family photos I have because my father didn’t know his family. My mother’s family were the stoic Midwestern types who didn’t linger much in the past. And my mother was born late in my grandparents’ lives so by the time she was interested in family history and genealogy, many of the older generations were gone.
For that reason, going through Mom’s family albums or discovering pictures on the Internet of Dad’s family always involves some sort of filling in the blanks on who is in it, where and when it was taken, and why.
For example, this is my favorite photo of my maternal great-grandparents, William Harburn and Jane Leary Harburn.
I like it because it feels like a lot of convincing happened before the camera clicked. Jane’s If-I-Have-To look and William’s self-conscious stance.
I also like it because they look so modest and genuine. It’s like they were comfortably visiting with the camera person, who I imagine was one of their ten children, maybe having some nice potato salad, talking about the doings of the last church social, and then a camera is pulled out and Jane pulls her cardigan a little tighter around her shoulders before heaping her hands in her lap, and William seems to be waiting for the click so he can go grab the last piece of Apple Brown Betty sitting on the far picnic table.
As far as when and where it was taken, all I have are educated guesses. William passed in 1940 at the age of 73, and he seems solidly in his late sixties here, so I think this was taken sometime in the 1930s. They seem to be sitting in a park. The background of the photo slopes up. At the time they lived in Flushing, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, which happens to be my hometown. The only park I know with a rise like that is Flushing County Park near the high school.
Based on their clothing, this might be a get-together after church. William made his living in dirt and gardens; he grew and sold flowers to the florist shops in town, several of which were owned by his children at various points. My point is if this were a casual social event he’d be wearing overalls. Jane is wearing a thick cardigan, but the trees behind them are robust with leaves, so perhaps it is late April or early May.
Like I said, it’s a guessing game. Those I could ask are long gone, unfortunately. Still, the photo does a good job of providing clues.
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.
This sad story featured in the Evansville Courier in July 1901 is how I learned that my 2nd great-grandmother Lena Benner‘s, brother Conrad, disappeared from his family.
Two days later, Conrad is still missing.
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.
What a relief! This census record is definitely one of my favorite finds.