Jailed for Assault

Very glad that Thee Porter, the victim, was reported as recovering. These clippings do not mention motive, but the situation of two white men, including my 3rd great-grandfather, disappointingly and embarrassingly, Nathaniel Lewis, against one “old” Black man certainly suggests racism.

“Jailed For Assault,” Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN, 7 Aug 1912, p. 3, col. 4, par. 3; accessed on genealogybank.com Sep 2015

Jailed For Assault
Farmer Held for Attack on Man Found Almost Beaten to Death
Mt. Vernon, Ind., Aug 6 – (Special) – Nathaniel Lewis, a well known gamer of Marrs township was arrested today charged with assault on William Bell, the man who was found almost beaten to death yesterday two miles south of Caborn. G. V. Menzies has been retained as attorney for Lewis. Lewis is out on $1,000 bail.

“Jim Willis…,” Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN, 12 Aug 1912, p. 3, col. 3, par. 1; accessed on genealogybank.com Sep 2015

Jim Willis as bound over to circuit court in the sum of $5,000 by Squire Weir this afternoon. Willis is charged jointly with Nathaniel Lewis with beating up the old negro, Thee Porter, near Caborn Station last week. Willis was arrested by Sheriff Joe Causey near Alzey, Ky., this morning. Porter is at the county infirmary, and is reported as being bale [sic] to sit up. Unless complications set in he has good chances for recovery.

“West Side News,” Evansville Press and Courier, Evansville, IN, 24 Feb 1911, p. 7, col. 5, par. 3; accessed on genealogybank.com Sep 2015

The case of the state vs. Nathaniel Lewis, charged with assault and battery with intent to kill is being heard in circuit court. Lewis is charged with beating an old negro at a school house in Marrs township this summer. Triplett and Wade represent the state and Major G. V. Menzies the defendant.

I did not find further reporting on this case, and I haven’t researched jail records yet. The reporter seems to have sympathy for the victim.

Source for featured image: Caborn Chapel in Caborn, Indiana, Chris Flook, Wikipedia Commons.

The Lost Uncle

It’s fitting on this Memorial Day that I just happened to find yearbook pictures of my uncle Daniel James.

Daniel and I started corresponding after I took a DNA test and his results came up as my first hit. Early on in our exchanges, he asked me not to tell anyone that we were in contact. I never asked why, but considering he and my father hadn’t talked in 35 years at that point and I didn’t know anyone else on that side of the family, it wasn’t really an issue.

Later I found out that he was estranged from pretty much everyone in his family. I did eventually tell my dad that we were in contact.

Last month I received an email from his account after a couple years of not hearing from him.

Nathan, this is D_______, Daniel’s wife.

I wanted to let you know he is in the hospital (not covid). He had a sore on his ankle and it turned gangrenous and they had to amputate his leg above the knee. The infection also turned septic which has affected his thinking and speech along with his internal organs. At this point the doctor is skeptical he will ever return home because the medical care he will need I cannot do at home. It is all up to Daniel now to pull through. I am not sure he has the strength to do that right now. Please send out a prayer he recovers.

Sorry to have had to tell you this, but I thought you might like to know. D

On April 7, she wrote me that he had passed the day before.

Dean James, 1961 Hill-McCloy High School Rambler, Montrose, MI;
accessed on Ancestry.com 30 May 2022

I’ve been looking for an obituary since. I asked his wife if one was printed but she never wrote back. And even though I never met and know very little about him, I wanted to write down some of what I learned from years of infrequent emails about our shared family history and the little documentation I’ve found on him.

Dean James, 1962 Hill-McCloy High School Rambler, Montrose, MI;
accessed on Ancestry.com 30 May 2022

Daniel, known as Dean when he was young, was born April 16, 1945, to Ralph James and Mary Lou Romine. He grew up in foster care until he graduated and then enlisted in the army. He rose to First Sergeant in the Korean War and married a woman he met while stationed in Germany. They soon divorced. He married again and lived in Flint for a while before moving to California. From public records, I know he lived in Los Gatos and Campbell, CA, and Laughlin, NV. He married D________ sometime after 1990 in California. He died on April 6, 2022, probably in Laughlin, Nevada.

May First Sergeant Daniel Dean James rest in peace.

Korea, 1972. Daniel is on the right. Photo from Daniel himself.

Posting a few emails I received from him over the years:

Hi Nate,

First, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Save this, you are the only person I have ever written a holiday greeting too. Bad brother, uncle, etc.

Second, thank you for sending all the neat goodies! I really appreciate the thought and the information. I have spent at least 3,650 hours reading, researching, and revising what I thought I knew about myself and the family, based on the records you sent me last year.

I have to apologize, there are a number of incidents that occurred in 1971-1972, that greatly affected my ability to remember much of anything. After five decades, I still don’t have it right! I will keep trying as long as I can….

Unfortunately, I did not recall being the best man at your dad and mom’s wedding. That was a real kick in the butt. I have gone back to grid square 00 and started over. I am now trying to get it all in writing and that will take sometime due to my numerous issues.

Again, have a great new year and God bless. Daniel

24 Dec, 2017, personal email

Hi Nate,

We are doing well, hope you are too.

The articles are great! They answer some of the questions I had for a long time. I never heard About this before, but I’m not surprised. My dad was a alcoholic for many years. He worked for Goodwill and attended AA around the 1960’s. My mom, sister and I had the same problem! The last time I saw them they were still drinking real heavy (1972). The drinking was part of the reason he “resigned” and the divorces, I’ll bet on it.

The last divorce raises several questions. Were my parents ever married? Was my dad a bigamist? Why did they get married in Rock Port, Atchison, Missouri, which is about 100 miles South of Council Bluffs? So many questions and no answers, yet.

By the way, my old computer died and I got a new one. Windows 10, Office 2016 and Outlook are driving me nuts! I think the learning curve will be much longer than usual, older age, I guess. If you have questions let me know, I’m not embarrassed to call it as I see it.


7 Feb 2016, personal email

Post-script: If you are reading this and would like to share more about Daniel, please contact me or leave a comment here.

The Merry Inn Bar

My father told me his Aunt Eva James Burns and her husband Ralph Burns had their hands in many businesses. Ralph was invited to drive in the opening parade of the Mackinaw Bridge, the bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan, because his company supplied concrete materials that were used to build it.

Ralph Burns’s obituary* states that he retired from Catsman, which was a conglomerate “of real estate, coal, fuel oil and concrete companies” owned by millionaire Samuel Catsman. I would assume this is the company that supplied concrete to build the Mackinaw Bridge but I have not verified.

The Burnses had a small conglomeration of their own, investing in a market, restaurants, and bars around the Flint area. Here is Aunt Eva at the MerryInn Bar that had been on Franklin Street. It became a gay bar with the same name in the early 2000s.

*Obituary of Robert Burns, Flint Journal (Flint, MI), 26 Nov 1987, personal records.

T. S. Kelly Feted Sunday

The mundane news items small-town papers used to print make me laugh sometimes, but this was a lovely find. To be surrounded by three generations of family and many, many cakes sounds like a wonderful 83rd birthday to me. He must have been very loved.

T. S. (Thomas Sherman) Kelley is the brother of my great-grandmother, Martha Kelley James, who had passed in 1937. The Mrs Carl Homan mentioned at the end of the article is my grand-aunt.

“T.S. Kelly Feted Sunday,” Council Bluffs Nonpariel (Council Bluffs, IA), 11 Oct 1949, p 10, col 5. Accessed on genealogybank.com
T.S. Kelly feted Sunday

Sunday afternoon in the T S Kelly home in Glendale acres, Mr Kelly was honored at a post birthday anniversary dinner party. He noted his 83rd birthday anniversary on Oct 5.

A basket dinner was served at 1 o clock to more than 40 guests seated at two long tables. The tables were centered with decorated birthday cakes.

Attending besides his children, were nine grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and special guests were his brother and sister in law Mr and Mrs J H O Kelly and his nieces, Mrs Carl Homan and daughter, Nancy.

War Injuries

The following [WARNING] anatomically explicit and graphic document resulted in the money that my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Wilson, would use to move his family from Canandaiga, New York, to a farm he purchased in central Michigan. He built a farm that supported his son, his grandson, and his great-granddaughter who was also my grandmother. The farm was sold, and his descendants moved to the largest town east.

ACT JULY 14, 1862
Brief in case of Thomas Wilson, A Priv[ate] of Company L, 24 Regiment, N[ew] Y[ork] Cav[alr]y
Post Office Address of Applicant:
Gypsum, Ontario Co, NY
Enlisted Jany 18, 1864, Discharged July 14, 1865
Declaration and Identification in Due Form
1 Rolls say wounded July 9/[18]64
2 Capt while in service certifies to gen of right thigh, received in the trenches before Petersburg from a shot by the enemy July 9/64

3 Dr Chapin, July 19/67 finds gsn of right thigh splintering the bone, passing across pubis of right side and out through cellular tissue and substance of penis at the root. Urine passed through the opening. The consists of injury of muscles inserted at the pubis rotating the leg and inability to retain urine more than one or two hours. Too much lameness to allow work of more than half a day.

Admitted M[ar]ch 11, 1867 to a Pension of 4.00 per month, commencing July 14th, 1865.

[Thomas Wilson’s Civil War military records, author’s personal files, received from NARA, Oct 2011.]

Honestly, I could have lived without knowing that about my forefather’s reproductive parts, but the description certainly demonstrates the terrible wounds Civil War soldiers had to endure if they were lucky enough not to die on the battlefield. Imagine the number of soldier’s that came through hospitals with similar injuries.

Life Goes On

I ventured into the 1950 census for the first time today. I jumped around different states before I decided that the most fruitful search I could start at this early point in the process was to look at records from my hometown.

While looking for family, I found Myron Bueche, the owner of my local grocery store chain; Esther Way, the former high school music teacher whose portrait was stolen my senior year; Marion Crouse, the board of education president and person for whom an elementary school was named; Earl Partridge, the man for which the street I grew up on was named; Jennie Bump, my grandaunt and the local florist; and many familiar last names such as Scharrer, Gillam, and Breiler, whose descendants would become my neighbors, fellow class members, and friends.

I also found close family members, and learned how their lives had carried on after the last census. The first close family record I found struck me.

Accessed through Ancestry.com. Record details at the top of the photo.

In 1950, my great-grandparents Fred and Minnie Porterfield Wilson were taking care of their grandchildren, Don and Ralph Keller. I had known that their parents and sisters had been killed in a horrific car accident just three years before, but I hadn’t considered where the sons had landed after they recovered physically.

I’m not surprised that Fred and Minnie took them in, of course. But having not known them personally, this information tells me more about the kind of people they were. At retirement age, they took on the task of raising their daughter’s boys, helping them through tragedy and rehabilitation. Giving the boys hope and stability after terrible losses so early in life.

This census record is just a reminder that I come from good people. And that these words on paper cannot possibly contain the fragile emotions in that household at the time.

Olivia or Lavinia?

My 2nd great-grandmother’s name is different in almost every record in which she appears.

“Four Pioneer Residents Dead,” The Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, IA), 7 Feb 1917, p.5, col. 5. Accessed on genealogybank.com.
1913 Council Bluffs, Iowa, City Directory. Accessed on Ancestry.com
Iowa, U.S. Marriage Records, 1880-1945, for Lena James and Samuel Hurd, Year 1893, Vol 370 (Keokuk-Ringgold). Accessed on Ancestry.com

Lavina, Lavinia, Lovina, Levina, Lena, Olivina, Olla, Olive, Olivar, and the inscrutable “M”. I eventually found a newspaper article that may account for the inconsistent names.

“Mrs. Louis Clayton James,” The Daily Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, Iowa), 6 May 1890. Accessed on genealogybank.com.

Though the reporter gives some color to my great-grandmother’s words for dramatic effect here, it’s probably safe to assume she didn’t talk like the Queen of England. Based off this description, the assorted clerks and census takers writing down her name had a hard time figuring out what she said.

I got a clearer idea of her name when I received her death certificate.

State of Iowa Certification of Vital Record ordered through the Pottawattamie County Department of Health. Personal records.

I know it’s hard to make out, but according to her daughter, Mamie Greer, her name was Olivia. Viewing mentions of her in newspapers and city directories throughout the years, she was either Olivia L or some spelling variation of Lavina O.

The Woman Who Died More Than Once (Updated)

For a few reasons, I’m thinking about relatives I’ve never met. This post is an updated version of a post from 2015 about my grandmother, Mary Louise Romine.

In 1951, my father was 7 years old and his brother and sister, the twins, were 6. They were living in Vassar, Michigan, and then Millington. Mary Lou worked as a cook in a restaurant; their father Ralph worked as a bartender. They both drank a lot.

Because of their work schedules, Mary Lou had family friends take care of them. A little babysitting became a lot of babysitting. Those friends got tired of taking care of them, so the kids were shipped to their Aunt Eva’s house. She took care of them until one day Ralph picked them up and took them for ice cream at Harriman’s Dairy. After that, he dropped them off at the juvenile home. Most likely it was a legal arrangement the kids weren’t aware of.

Eventually, social workers placed the kids in three different houses full of strangers: foster families. I imagine on his third or fourth night in the new house my dad realized his parents weren’t coming back for him. That was Mary Lou’s first death.

In 1983 or so, a call from a stranger marked Mary Lou’s second death. It went something like this:

“This is [my dad’s] Aunt Loretta,” a woman said by way of a greeting. “I’m calling to tell him his mother is sick with cancer and is asking for him. She doesn’t have much time left.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, but where was she all the time [my dad] wanted and needed her?” my mom said. Mom had known Dad since high school, so she knew the family history.

“Oh, I don’t know nothing about that! Will you tell him?”

Mom agreed. Later, Dad said he hadn’t known he’d had an Aunt Loretta. From then on, Dad believed his mother was gone. Mary Lou’s second death.

In 1989, another phone call. No one remembers who told him she had died, either his half-sister Delana or her daughter. It went something like this:

“Hello, this is your sister/niece.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I thought you should know your mother died last night.”

“Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry for the people who care for her, but I am not one of them. Goodbye.”

In 2013, I connected with a relative of his sister and niece on Facebook. We got together for dinner one night. I was nervous; she was the first relative on that side of my family I had ever met. I wanted it to go well. I wanted her to answer questions I’ve had simply with her presence. At some point during dinner, I started describing my dad, her grand-uncle, but she stopped me mid-sentence. She told me she’d met my dad at a wake, Dad’s mother’s, in 1989. I didn’t know he’d gone to her funeral.

My mind reeled to think what I was doing that day. I would have been 15, preoccupied by marching band practices and pool parties at friends’ houses. Too young to understand his need to leave his past alone, to give his sons a less complicated family life.

I know facts about my grandmother now. I know Mary Lou was born in Parma, Missouri, in 1918. She was the oldest daughter of Clayton Romine and Elizabeth Lewis. She married Del Smith in Missouri in 1934 and had three children. She moved to Flint, Michigan, sometime around 1940 and eventually became the head cook of Higgins Restaurant on Corunna Road. She had three more children with my grandfather, Ralph James. She was with Rollie Fletcher and James Harvey as well. She died on November 18, 1989, near Otisville, Michigan, and she was buried near Clio.

From r to l: Mary Lou, Delana Smith, Nathaniel Lewis, Donna Smith, child, Elizabeth Lewis, child

I’ve been given pictures of her. She is the woman on the far left of the picture in the polka dot dress. She is the woman who died not twice, but three times. She is the woman who profoundly hurt my father, but she is also the woman who directly shaped my father’s attitude toward his own family, made him want the opposite of what he had. She is a key reason I had a stable and loving childhood, and for that I begrudgingly thank her.





Family Coincidences

I’ve been reviewing my records for my mother’s sister, my Aunt Marilyn, lately because we sadly lost her earlier this year. My mother wrote a beautiful tribute of her life, so this post will not be a complete profile. It’s probably been ten years since I last looked through this stuff and I was surprised to discover a coincidence between my aunt and me.

Marilyn Jane Harburn was born in Flint, Michigan, on July 16, 1935 to Nelson Harburn and Bernice Wilson.

She lived in Flushing, a suburb of Flint, throughout her childhood but moved to Chicago briefly after school. While there she married Jim Plainer in November 1955.

US Presbyterian Church Records 1701-1970, Illinois, Chicago, Lake View Presbyterian Church, 1891-1970. Accessed on Ancestry.com 2 Apr 2022

All of that I knew before, but I don’t think I’d ever really looked at her wedding register. Her home address — 3531 Broadway — is included on it. I’m very familiar with that street as I’ve lived in Chicago for 20 years now, so I looked up that address.

Chicago – Google Maps

Turns out her apartment (A on the map) and the church she got married in (B) are just around the corner from my first apartment in the city (C). In fact, the grocery store that now stands where her apartment was is where I shopped for the four years I lived on Waveland. I had no idea until yesterday of that coincidence.

Even more of a coincidence, I have a good friend who is very involved in First Presbyterian today.

What are the chances that we both moved to the same neighborhood of a large city in another state 45 years apart?

My mom, my grandma, and Aunt Marilyn circa 1979