Wednesday, June 22, 2011


~ A Ryland Family ~

It is a lucky day for a genealogist when the tombstone carries magical information.

Here is what my third-great grandfather's stone says:
Sacred to the Memory of Stephen Madden
Died May 28, 1877, aged 75 years
Born in the Parish of Kilbragen
Town of Bandon, Co. Cork, Ireland.

And his wife's says:
Sacred to the Memory of
Wife of Stephen Madden
Died August 23, 1870 age 72 years 3 mo.
Born in the Parish of Kilbragen
Town of Bandon, Co. Cork, Ireland

And the following inscription is on both of them:
When the hours of life are past
And death's dark shades arrives at last,
It is not sleep, it is no rest,
'Tis Glory opening to blest.
N. Imus

These stones are in the Madden plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Mendota, Illinois.

Stephen and Hanorah (found sometimes as Honorah, and occasionally shown as "Nora") arrived in the United States sometime between June of 1830 and July of 1834. They brought three children with them: Julia, b 1825; Timothy b abt 1828; and John C., b 10 June 1830. Settling in Taunton, Massachusetts, their last child, Ellen, was born there on 10 July 1834. She was my second-great grandmother.

On the 1850 census records Stephen is shown as a "laborer." By this time son Timothy had gone to California (and was never heard from again,) and daughter Julia had married Peter Donohue. In 1853 the records in St. Mary's Church show that son John had married Mary Sullivan and Ellen had married Robert Whitters, a young man from Ireland. Unfortunately Robert died in 1855, leaving Ellen a young widow with Edward, a year-old child.

All the Madden family except for Ellen moved to Mendota, LaSalle County, Illinois in 1853. But after her husband's death she took Edward and followed her family. It was there that she met and married Chester Stevens in 1857. Edward Whitters retained his birth name but was raised in the Stevens family as the oldest son.

Stephen and Hannorah were devout Catholics and were not too pleased at their daughter Ellen marrying outside the faith, according to a letter in the possession of granddaughter Lucile G. Fulton York in 1969. Written to a grandson of Julia Madden Donohue, these are the salient parts:

My Grandmother, Ellen, was, I think, the only member of her family born in this country. She married Robert Whitters and they had a son before he was killed, leaving her a young widow with a baby son....I think, but am not sure, that Grandfather [Chester]Stevens was in the same business as Uncle Pete and was selling machinery - traveling around. Grandfather was from English parents and Steven's Point, Wisconsin is named that because they founded the town. When they were married, Grandfather and Grandmother migrated to Raymond, Kansas.

The reason our branch of the family knows little about Grandma's people is that Grandfather was not Catholic and her people were displeased. He died around the turn of the century so I didn't know him. His sister, Sophronia, married Gen. Steven Hurlbut and he and Grandma were frequent visitors at the White House after Grant became President. Grandma was a great gal, walked like a queen, and had a combination of Irish and Bostonion accent that was really something....I have a remnant of a paisley shawl, which was a wedding gift and which I am putting in small antique frames for the grandchildren, along with the records I have...."
Nothing more is known about Steven and Hanorah

Sunday, June 5, 2011


A recent picture posted on LA Weekly purported to be the face of genealogy, but it was a less than flattering picture of two young boys. Frankly, it was a tasteless illustration and whoever chose that picture was no friend of genealogists.

I offer here my take on the face of genealogy - my Uncle Bob Ryland and my Aunt Florence Ryland, sitting for the photographer in Caldwell, Kansas in 1908. This Ryland line goes back to Paulus Reylandt - who died in Berks, PA in 1789.

Thursday, June 2, 2011



I am always afraid that relatives who die either young or at least before they marry and start a family will get lost both in the memory and in the record. Robert Gaston Dobbins was my great-grandfather's brother. He died when he was only 23 years old and unmarried. Although my great-grandfather named his first son after him, (Robert Gaston Dobbins 1872-1929) by the time I started genealogy in 1984 no one in the family had any inkling that there had been an earlier relative by that name. I am hoping that my record of him will here always be available to anyone running a search on that name. He is truly an Immortal Nobody.

Robert Gaston Dobbins had been born in Clermont County, Ohio to James "Jim" Alexander and Elizabeth Perkins Dobbins. In 1834 the Dobbins family, headed by the Rev. Robert B. Dobbins, a circuit-riding Presbyterian Minister, left Ohio for Illinois, where Rev. Dobbins had purchased enough land to ultimately deed some to each of his children. The family settled in Vermont Township, Fulton County, Illinois.

The Mississippi River is the western border of Illinois
and many rivers feed into it. The dot on the map below shows approximately where the Dobbinses settled and you can see the waterways that course through it. The two biggest are the Illinois River and nearer to Fulton County the Spoon River.

My friend Carl Peterson, a retired history professor, a superb genealogist and a terrific social historian, told me that the Mississippi Valley, of which west-central Illinois is a part, had a terrible cholera epidemic in 1851, and it is possible that this is what Robert died from. Of course we don't know for sure. We do, however, know that it was from an illness, as one of the charges against his estate was a bill from the doctor that read: “To P. S. Secor, Dr. For 20 visits, advice and medicine per self in last illness - $33.25,” Carl noted that is is unlikely that someone dying in a cholera epidemic would have had occasion for 20 visits to the doctor.

What we do know is that Robert did not leave a will, but he had enough assets that his estate had to be probated. Robert's father Jim was the administrator and he had to declare all of Robert’s assets and all of his liabilities.

Although this record is difficult to read, Robert apparently loaned money to Levi J. Sperry, who was married to Robert’s sister Paulina Jane; Robert was holding two notes, one for $20 and the other for $12.50. As administrator of the estate Jim noted that it was “doubtful” that these were collectible. I suspect that this was a way to “forgive” the notes. After all, Levi was his son-in-law, and what father hasn’t helped out his kids? The husband of daughter Elizabeth Dobbins Kinsey owed seventy-five cents, but Jim didn’t “forgive” that debt. (Claudius Kinsey had deserted Elizabeth some years earlier). And Jim himself owed $8.87, which he said he was good for. The total money outstanding was $78.57.

Among the bills that Robert’s estate incurred was one for $8.00 from Thomas Grewell for making the coffin and one for $2.00 paid to John Marshall “for crying Sale of the Estate of said deed.” “Crying” is a word used when there is an auction or sale – the auctioneer “cries” the sale.

An inventory was taken of all Robert’s possessions, and among the items on the list were some fairly uncommon items for a young man who lived on a farm on the Illinois prairie:

1 leather trunk
1 silk plush cap
1 pair pantaloons
1 satin vest
2 silk neck handkerchiefs
1 pr hose
1 mole skin hat
1 fine shirt
2 pair cashmere pants
1 gold ring
1 umbrella
1 Missouri Harmony

Of course there were the usual undershirts, underpants, jackets, hats, etc. that you would expect. All the inventoried items were sold at auction. Purchasers included family members and a few neighbors.

I originally thought a “Missouri Harmony” was a harmonica. But I learned that it was a shape-note singing book that had been used since the 1820s in the various singing schools that were held in many areas during that period of our country’s history. They were created for people who didn’t read music; singers could identify the tune by observing the shapes of the notes. Sometimes they are called “wheat notes.” There also was another book that was popular at that time called “Sacred Harp.”

In my investigation to learn about the Missouri Harmony, I was able to purchase a reproduction from the University of Nebraska book store for $1.00 – a closeout price. They had one copy left, obviously waiting for me! Here’s what it looks like.

I know nothing more about young Robert Gaston Dobbins except that he was buried in the Dobbins Cemetery in Vermont Township, Fulton County, Illinois. No picture exists.