Thoughts from the Porch

Eureka! Edmond J. Gifford’s Father

Once the Internet became a useful source of information, I started to try to help my father find more information about Edmond J’s parents. I became completely hooked on solving the mystery. However, my father had been very thorough. I seldom found anything that he did not already have in his paper files. It was still a mystery when he died in 2004.

I had been posting queries on various genealogy websites for a several years but never received any useful leads. The main problem with my paternal line is that my father was the only son of an only son of an only son. It’s often difficult to know the names of the mothers, unless written records were kept, in a bible, for example. So there were few genealogists that who would be following my Gifford line. Then one day I received an amazing reply from a familiar name among Gifford researchers, and a possible distant cousin. I’ll call him Steve. Steve was intrigued by the puzzle and said that he thought he had found Edmond’s father. This took him only a couple of days because Steve thought outside of the box, literally. Well, almost literally. He thought outside of the square.

Since Edmond claimed to have been born in Utica, New York, in 1830, Steve had checked all the Giffords in Utica in 1830 but found, as I had, no father with an infant son. Then he realized that Utica is near the Oneida county border. So, being an intelligent man, Steve looked outside the Oneida County box into Herkimer County. He found that there were several small towns near the county line that had been home to Giffords in 1830. But only one of these men had a newborn son in 1830. His name was Hicks Gifford, living in the town of Schuyler (not to be confused with the county). Unfortunately, before 1850, the census listed only the name of the head of the household, no one else. So we can’t know the name of this infant.

In the 1840 Coles County, Illinois census, Hicks Gifford appears with his wife, two sons and two or three daughters. One son is about 10 years old, as was Edmond in 1840. In 1837, Hicks had purchased 40 acres of land in what would later become Douglas County. Then, in the 1850 Census which would have listed the names of any children still living at home, Hicks is nowhere to be found. If Hicks died between 1840 and 1850, then his youngest son, who would be twenty in 1850, would be on his own, as Edmond was, at school.

1820 Bethel, Vermont Census

Edmond J’s claims in census records that his parents were born in Vermont and/or Massachusetts can now be explained because Hicks was born in Massachusetts and lived in Vermont for a period of time before moving west to New York. The name “Hicks” as a given name was very unusual. So we can be confident that the Hicks Gifford that appears in this 1820 Bethel, Vermont census is our Hicks and likely the father of Edmond J. Gifford. 

However, Steve went on to tell me that Hicks’ daughter Harriet Corletta Gifford had a son named Edmond. In addition, Harriet lived very near Edmond over the years until her death in 1874, despite his tendency to wander from Indiana to Iowa to Michigan to North Dakota (Well, she didn’t go that far). Furthermore, Hicks’ wife was Nancy Jones, which may tell us what Edmund’s middle initial stood for. For genealogists, this is enough circumstantial evidence to declare Edmond Gifford’s father to be Hicks Gifford.

Wow! I thought the puzzle was solved and that I would soon be able to document this relationship between Hicks and Edmond J. Gifford. However, there is no record of the names of Hicks children on the most popular genealogy websites. I tried to find Edmond’s birth record, to no avail. I have also failed to find Hicks’ death record or any record of his interment. I even searched the history of Coles County for any mention of Hicks as a pioneer in Illinois. Illinois was very much on the frontier in 1840, so the lack of death records is not surprising.

However, moving right along, I can trace Hicks’ ancestry to “William of Sandwich”, who arrived in Massachusetts in the mid 1600’s and is the ancestor of most Giffords in North America. So being a descendant of his is really no big deal. The most authoritative account of William Gifford of Sandwich can be found in the New England Historical & Genealogical Register. It’s an interesting, and brief, account of a man who, as a Quaker among Puritans, seemed to be constantly butting heads with the authorities. 

William of Sandwich gave his sons Christopher and Robert some land in Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1670. Robert left his land to his son, Stephen, who, in turn, left it to his son, Recompense. Recompense, however, sought adventure and so, in about 1750, he sold the farm and headed west, 15 miles to Tiverton, Rhode Island. Recompense’s first born son, William, was the father of Hicks and so this is our connection to William of Sandwich, assuming that Hicks is the father of Edmond J.

William, Hicks’ father, was born in Tiverton, Rhode Island, in 1754. He served in the Revolutionary War, first in a Rhode Island State Militia with Washington’s army and then by reenlisting three more times. The details of his war experience are so interesting that I have put his account of it in a separate essay. He retreated with Washington’s army after the Battle of White Plains, crossing the Hudson, or North, River, climbing up the Palisades, then marching south through the new state of New Jersey and across the Delaware River near Trenton to the safety of Pennsylvania. Shortly after the “Crossing of the Delaware”, his enlistment ended and he returned to Rhode Island. That alone should have been enough, but after returning to Rhode Island, he continued to serve until the end of the war. His account of the last three enlistments would be comical if they were not so perilous. 

After the war, William married Susannah Brown and their son Hicks married Nancy Jones in 1815 in Providence, Rhode Island. There is no record of her parents, her date of birth or birthplace. However, parents often use a mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name when naming their children. Hicks and Nancy may have named one of their sons “Edmond Jones Gifford” and he in turn may have named one of his sons Edmond Hicks Gifford. Pure speculation, but this would explain the middle initials. By 1820, Hicks and Nancy had travelled to New York on their way to Illinois.

Having hit a brick wall in New England trying to connect Edmond to Hicks, I decided to investigate the land purchase Hicks made in 1837 to see if there was any information there. In 1840, Illinois was sparsely settled. The Indians had left Illinois shortly after the Black Hawk War in 1832. The first thing I had to understand was that Coles County included Douglas County until 1843.  So the land purchased by Hicks was in Coles County at the time of purchase, 1837.

The official description of Hicks’ purchase is SE quarter of the SE quarter of section 13 in township 15 North of range 9 East. The original document is even available. However, this tells me nothing about Hicks’ family. But by this time I had became obsessed with finding this plot of land (I had retired and had lots of time on my hands). To find the 40 acres that Hicks purchased I had to understand land plat maps.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 created a rectangular survey system for the western public lands of the United States. This allowed for the sale of public lands to settlers. The same principle was used to facilitate the “settlement” of Manhattan Island north of Houston Street by creating “the grid”. You can’t own land unless its perimeter can be defined. Where grids had not been created, as in colonial America, ownership of land is defined by “meets and bounds”. Hand drawn plats like the one below show the landscape as it was before the settlers arrived. Sometimes, to help identify the sections, man-made features, both Indian and European, are drawn. 

My husband loves to recount the story of the surveyors crossing the Kansas prairie in a wagon full of large stones and placing them at appropriate intervals to identify the corners of the sections. However, when the surveyors were chased by hostile Indians, they threw out the stones as fast as they could to reduce the weight of the wagon and that is why some sections are, still today, not quite square.

I managed to find some old maps that helped me to locate the land that Hicks purchased. By this time, I have completely lost the purpose of this whole adventure, so don’t worry if you are a little confused as to why we going down this road. I just wanted to see the land today, even if it tells me nothing about Edmond. 

Douglas County

Here is a historical map of the land plats in Douglas County. The Township numbers are along the left hand side and the Range numbers are along the top. A township and a range define a square. Within each of these squares are numbered sections. And then to confuse everyone, there are actual “townships”, like Boudre, that don’t correspond to the numbered townships and ranges. 

The map below is from the first hand drawn maps of Coles County. It shows Township 15N and Range 9E. For section 13 we are fortunate to have the convergence of two rivers to help us locate the section on a modern map. These rivers would have been an important source of water for the settlers.

Section 13

If you go here on Google Earth, you can walk up and down the street to see present day buildings. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty boring stroll. Just a plain house, some farm buildings and fields.

It’s possible that if Hicks ever did get to live on his land and died there, then he may be buried in one of the nearby cemeteries. There are two old cemeteries nearby, Gill and Antioch.  There are websites for both Gill and Antioch but no evidence of any Giffords. In a very detailed History of Coles County, Illinois there is no mention of any Giffords. Hicks apparently did not leave a mark there.

A death record may have provided useful information. If Hicks died on his land before 1843, then the land was still in Coles County. Also, if he stayed in Coles County until his death, then any record would be there. But Coles County did not keep death records before 1878. If Hicks died on his land after 1843, then his death record could only be obtained from Douglas County. Records are available only to authorized family members. But I’m trying to establish that with the death record. The state of Illinois has death records only after 1916. The Illinois Genealogy website is in the process of listing death records, but does not yet have pre-1916 death records for Cole or Douglas Counties. A state-wide search for Gifford shows no Hicks Gifford or even Hicks Giff… To write to a county clerk for a copy of a pre-1916 death record, the record must be on the Illinois Genealogy Website. Now we are going in circles.

It might help to find the names of Hicks’ other children. But these names would not be listed on the pre-1850 census and Hicks does not appear anywhere after 1840. Neither does his wife, Nancy. There are only four Nancy Giffords of her age in the entire country.  Then there is the last recourse: Google it. But Googling “Hicks Gifford” only returns my own queries. Again going in circles.  The Douglas or Coles County Clerk would have the records of all the owners of the land going back to Hicks. Maybe his other son, whose name I do not know, inherited it. Having that name would give me a new direction to go. But by this time I was tired.

So, was Hicks’ son who was born in 1830 near Utica, New York named Edmond J (perhaps for Jones)? If he was, after Hicks’ death Edmond was sent to school in East Lima, Lagrange County, Indiana. This actually makes sense because Hick’s daughter, Harriet, married William H. Walker in 1844 in Lagrange County, Indiana. Edmond may have lived with her after their father’s death. If Hicks was the father of Edmond, then my Gifford line can be traced back to one of the first Giffords in North America, just like almost every other American Gifford. Not only that, but Hicks’ father, another William Gifford, was a descendant of some the earliest Europeans to settle in North America, including passengers on the Mayflower. More on that later. But more importantly, now we have a story of how Edmond J. Gifford arrived in East Lima, Indiana in 1850.

So I tend to agree with Steve that, despite the lack of hard evidence, there is enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that Hicks was the father of Edmond J. Gifford, my great-great-grandfather. Sometimes that’s the best you can do. And besides, there are no other suspects. My father and I have investigated them all. 

The Horse Thief

After my grandmother died in 1971, we discovered an old family tree with a dead end. The parents of my g-g-grandfather, Edmond J. Gifford, were not identified. We found out that his parents’ identities were a mystery, maybe even to some of his own children from whom he was estranged. There was no birth certificate or any record of his parents. However, my father was determined to discover Edmond’s parents and in the process learned a lot about Edmond. And this was in the days before computers and the internet. As we learned more about, him some in family started referring to him as the “horse thief” because he always seemed to be on the run.

1850 Indiana Census

Edmond makes his first official appearance at age 20 in the 1850 census when he was living with Rufus Patch, Superintendent of Lagrange Collegiate Institute, East Lima, Lagrange County, Indiana, and attending school there. The records of the school cryptically list his home as Greenfield (Indiana? New York?). By 1852 he had moved on to Bloomington, Muscatine, Iowa, where he worked as a sawyer.

1856 Muscatine, Iowa Census

In the 1856 Iowa census, there is a household headed by an A. J. Warren in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife Nancy and daughter Lila. In the same household lived Nancy’s sister Mary Renfro and brother George Innis (“Eunice”) Renfro and a 26 year old E. J. Gifford. Nancy Warren may be Nancy’s mother-in-law. Both A. J. and E. J. worked as sawyers. Although E. J. Gifford is listed as born in Michigan, this most likely is our man.

This is because two years later on May 7, 1858 Edmond J. Gifford married Nancy Ann Renfro Warren in Nancy’s home town, Rock Island, Illinois. I can’t find a record of Nancy Ann’s divorce from Warren. He turns up in Arkansas in 1880 with a new wife and three children, but not Lila. She would have been 25 in 1880 and probably married.

When she married Edmond, Nancy was pregnant by, apparently, her previous husband, A. J. Warren. Nancy gave birth to a son five months later, who was “adopted” by Edmond J. and named William D. Gifford. However, given the previous living conditions, William may have been Edmond’s biological son. We will catch up with William again later.

In 1861 back in Muscatine, Iowa, Edmond J. and Nancy had a second son, Edmond (Edward) H. Gifford. That same year Edmond J. enlisted in the 1st Iowa Infantry for three months. This was in response to the first call for volunteers by President Lincoln after the attack on Fort Sumter. The enlistments were for only three months because, without congressional authorization, the president could only call up the militia. It may also indicate some optimism about the anticipated length of the war, but actually, that was the maximum amount of time that militia could be called on to defend the country. An army would have to be raised after that.

Edmond enlisted on the 7th of May 1861 in Company A, 1st Infantry Regiment Iowa and was discharged on August 20. His unit was in the battle at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Missouri on August 10, the second battle of the war, after the first Battle of Bull Run, or Manasses as Southerners called it, both of which the Union lost. 

The Union force lost 24 percent of its command in the battle, while Confederate losses totaled 12 percent. On Bloody Hill, where the heaviest fighting took place, there were over 1,700 total casualties — some 20 percent of the men who fought there. … During the brutal fighting [General Nathaniel] Lyon was struck by a bullet to the chest, becoming the Union’s first general killed in the war. …Wilson’s Creek also underlined a point that Bull Run had first made clear: that the war would not be easy or quick, and that for all the lofty rhetoric on both sides, the reality was that the war would be agonizingly brutal.

Randall Fuller, Professor of English at Drury University, Springfield, Missouri, “We Bled in the Corn”, Disunion in the New York Times, August 9, 2011.

Edmond J. survived the battle, obviously. In an irony of war, another of my ancestors, actually my grandmother Eveline Bonorden’s uncle, Herman F. Döllinger, died in a disastrous fire on aboard the steamship General Lyon in the Spring of 1865.

Her passengers consisted of discharged and paroled soldiers, escaped prisoners and refugees, among whom were about thirty women and twenty-five small children. Two negroes were also among the refugees.

New York Times, 1865

There was talk of sabotage by Southern sympathizers, even though the war was over. We’ll catch up with him later, too.

Edmond J.’s whereabouts after the war are unknown. Nancy Ann had taken their sons, William and Edward, to Davenport, Iowa, where she worked as a seamstress. This is surprising since Nancy Ann’s widowed mother, Elizabeth Cormack Renfro, lived across the Missouri River in Rock Island. There may have been a rift between mother and daughter, but Elizabeth would later take in Edward’s brother William. In 1871 or ’72, Nancy Ann procured a divorce from Edmond J. in Davenport where she remarried and apparently lived until her death.

Finally Edmond J. resurfaces on 7 August 1873, when he married Josephine Johnson Westcott in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They had a daughter, Una (Annie, Mia) V. Gifford in 1874 and a son, Willie in 1876, who died four months later. By 1880 Edmond J. was living in Petoskey, Emmet, Michigan with his wife, Josephine. In the census he says that both his parents were born in Vermont and that he worked as a grocer. However, he later says that his parents were born in Massachusetts. Others in the household are Una V. Gifford (age 6) and Edwin R. Westcott (age 17), Josephine’s son from her marriage to Randall Westcott.

I recently discovered a photograph of Edmund online. This must be Josephine with him, as he appears to be wearing a war medal.

Edmond and Josephine

Although he enlisted in Muscatine, Iowa, Edmond was a member of the the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in Petoskey. Memorial services were held by local G.A.R. veterans over the years and around the northern states. His trips to these meetings are often reported in the Bismark Daily Tribune where he is referred to as “Captain” Gifford, although his highest rank was private.

In the 1889 Edmond J. and his wife and daughter are still living in Petoskey. By this time, he was a very successful businessman. But, by 1890, Edmond J. had moved to Bismarck, North Dakota, where he invested in dry-land wheat farming and lost everything. According to the Bismarck Daily Tribune (August 23, 1900) Edmund often went to visit friends in Petoskey, Michigan.  Josephine, who was in poor health, remained in Petoskey with her daughter Clarissa until her death.

However, Edmund J. seems to have been a very kind man and devoted husband. The following is an excerpt from an essay written by the granddaughter of Edmund’s wife Josephine, from her marriage to Randall Westcott.

“…Josephine left New York at this time [the death of her first husband, Randall H. Westcott in 1864] and went with her two children to live with her family….Her family thought that perhaps she should go back to the young ladies’ seminar and teach. She tried this, but was not well enough and she began to cough which made them afraid that she might have tuberculosis. After a while her mother offered to care for [her children] and she was sent to the pines of Michigan to get well….

“Later [Josephine] married a Mr. Gifford in Petoskey. He was smart – a lumber inspector, engineer and had a real estate office….He owned the flatiron block where Rosenthal’s was, etc….

“Just as property was getting valuable in Petoskey, Mr. Gifford decided to go to Bismarck, N. D. and invested his money in wheat land. After several dry years, he lost all his money he invested in farming. He got a job overseeing a group of men who cared for a big railroad bridge at Bismarck. He also surveyed and sold real estate. One day [Josephine’s daughter Clarissa] received a letter from Grandfather Gifford saying that [Josephine] was not well and that he was going to take her to St. Paul for an examination. He wanted [Clarissa] to meet him there. [Clarissa] went and found out that [Josephine] had a cancer and that it would be best for her to come back to Petoskey and live with us. Grandfather [Gifford] went back to Bismarck to sell out. We children had heard something about Grandmother [Josephine] not being well and we expected that she would look very ill, but she was so pretty and looked so happy. She had very black hair and beautiful violet eyes….

“Finally, [Josephine] was not well enough to be up and she was in bed most of the time. Grandfather Gifford sent his entire bank account here to [Josephine] so she could have anything she needed. He paid all her church dues in her Bismarck church as long as she lived. Dr. John Reycraft cared for her. He never let her suffer….

“Grandfather Gifford did not get here before she passed on. She had seemed so fine and passed so suddenly. We had not sent for him. He was trying to settle his affairs in Bismarck….”

Josephine’s obituary tells another story.

Mrs. E. J. Gifford, after a long and painful illness, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. C.J. Pailthorp, yesterday morning. Mrs. Gifford came to Petoskey many months ago from their home in Bismark, N.D., to be near her children, Mrs. Pailthorp and E.R. Wescott and for better medical attendance and has never been well enough to return. Her husband arrived from Bismark Sunday and was with her at the end. Mr. and Mrs. Gifford were among the first comers to Petoskey in 1874, and at one time owned the whole of what is now the flat-iron block. About twelve years ago they removed to Bismark. Mrs. Gifford was a woman of fine Christian character and a devoted member of the Methodist church. She leaves a husband [Edmond J.], and three children, all married….

Petoskey Record, 22 May 1895

Well, maybe he was with her in the end. Edmond returned to Bismarck to live out his days as a watchman on the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge over the Missouri River. It’s doubtful that his experience with railroads had anything to do with his son and future grandson choosing to build them. Who knows? However, it is probably at this time that Edmond acquired a pocket watch that I still have.

Edmond’s pension applications shed some light on his years as a widower. He first applied for a military disability pension in 1890, at age 60. Based on his doctor’s description of his disabilities, he seems to have been suffering greatly as a result of his three months service in the Civil War. The doctor describes his chronic diarrhea and heart ailments as the main causes of his disability, as well as mental derangement. Remember, he was only 60. In 1903, when he applied for a pension increase, he had “two teeth in the upper jaw and two in lower, all loose and puss extruding from sockets”. 

In the brief interview in his application, he was asked a few questions about his residences and family, which are infuriatingly brief. When asked where he was living before enlisting he says “In the West, from 1852 Muscatine, Iowa.” No mention of where he lived before age 20, which I suppose he believed to be irrelevant. But we do learn that his eyes were blue, his skin was light, and his hair by this time was gray. He stood 5 feet 7 ¾ inches tall and weighed 165 pounds. So he was rather small, but this may be average for his generation. When asked about his children, he remembered the birth dates of Edmond H. and Una, but does not mention William. He describes his son Edmond H. as “may be living. I have received no letter from [?] since 1885.” That’s 18 years.

Edmond J. died at age 73, in Bismarck, North Dakota, 30 November 1903 while still a watchman on the bridge over the Missouri River. His body was returned to Michigan for burial. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Petoskey, Michigan.Bismarck Daily Tribune 30 Nov 1903:

At St. Alexius hospital at six o’clock this morning occurred the death of Mr. E. G. [sic] Gifford, long a resident of Bismarck. For many years he has been employed as watchman of the Northern Pacific bridge across the Missouri River and has lived in the watchman’s residence there. A number of days ago he was taken ill and his condition became such that he was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Mr. Gifford was well and favorably know in Bismarck, where he lived with his family for many years. His wife died several years ago and he leaves one daughter here, Mrs. C. N. Hendrix of Steele. He leaves also a son and daughter in Petoskey, Mich. from which state he came to this city.

Mr. Gifford was seventy one years of age at the time of his death and was a native of New York state. He was a veteran of the civil war and a member of the local G. A. R. It is probable that his remains will be taken back to Michigan for interment.

Funeral services will be held at the Methodist church tomorrow afternoon at one o’clock. The remains will be taken to Michigan for interment.

Bismarck Daily Tribune 30 Nov 1903

Mrs. Hendrix is Edmond’s daughter Una. There is no mention of Edward. Since there were no “son and daughter” in Petoskey, this may refer to his stepchildren. But that is still a nice obituary for a watchmen.

Death of E. J. Gifford

The remains of E. J. Gifford, one of the pioneer settlers of Petoskey, are expected to arrive tomorrow for interment by the side of his wife in Greenwood. In 1875 Mr. Gifford was one of the energetic pioneer business men of this tiny village. He owned the three cornered piece of land on Lake and Howard streets called the flat-iron block, and built a house where the department store of S. Rosenthal & Sons now stands. He also owned other pieces of property now very valuable, but in the early 80’s he disposed of his Petoskey interests and moved to Bismarck, S. D. [sic], where he has since resided. Mr. Gifford was the step-father of Mrs. C. J. Pailthorp of this city, and E. R. Westcott of Big Rapids, and leaves one child of his own, a married daughter living in Steele, N. D.

Petoskey Record on 2 Dec 1903:

Mrs. Pailthorp is Josephine’s daughter Jessie.  Again, no mention of Edward or William.

The body of E. J. Gifford was brought to Petoskey Thursday afternoon for burial. The funeral precession went from the station directly to the Greenwood cemetery where a brief service was read by Rev. H. H. Shawhan. Mr. Gifford was a step-father to Mrs. C. J. Pailtrop of our city and E. R. Westcott of Big Rapids. He has a daughter, formerly Miss Una Gifford whose home is in Steele, N. D. Mr. Gifford was a former resident here and extensive property holder in the early days of the village. He moved to Bismarck, North Dakota years ago, and has since made that place his residence. The six pall bearers were old pioneers of the city and friends of the deceased.

Petoskey Evening News on 4 Dec 1903:

None of the obituaries mentions Edmond’s sons Edmond (Edward) H. or William D. from his marriage to Nancy Ann Renfro. Not only was Edmond J. estranged from his own father, but he seems to have been estranged from his two sons as well. However, he was not a horse thief, but actually a well regarded businessman and devoted husband, the second time around any way. Nice to know.

The following are buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Petoskey, Michigan:

Edmund J. Gifford, father, b 1829, d 11/30/1903 Josephine A. Gifford, mother, b 1839, d 5/21/1895 Willie Gifford

There are also three vacant plots in the lot, perhaps purchased for Edmond’s other children, Edward H., William D. and Una. Maybe they weren’t forgotten.

With all this information, all we know about Edmond’s parentage is that he was born in 1830 in Utica, NY and his parents were born in Vermont or Massachusetts. But that may be enough.

My Ancestors: Highlights

Except for one line, all of my father’s ancestors that I can document can be traced back to the northern colonies and end up in Rock Island/Davenport area. My mother’s ancestors, except for one line, all trace back to the southern colonies, mostly South Carolina, and in one case, 12th century Scotland, and end up in Falls County, Texas. And the two non-colonial lines come more recently from Prussia and Germany. This post is a preview of some of the highlights of my family’s history.

My Father’s Ancestors

My father’s ancestors include early Quakers in Massachusetts in the 1600s (Gifford), pioneers in Virginia and Kentucky (Renfros), a possible personal guard to George Washington (Roundy), an imminent German biologist (Bonorden) and others fleeing the Revolution of 1848 in Prussia (Döllinger and Meyer). They primarily lived in the north, except for the Renfros, who migrated north from Virginia and Kentucky in the early 19thcentury. Their descendants eventually settled in Rock Island/Davenport.

Despite decades of genealogy research, my father was unable to find the father of his great grandfather,Edmond J. Gifford. It was only after my father’s death that a fellow genealogist took up the challenge that I had posted and found Edmond’s father in two days. With that I could then trace the Gifford line back to the “first” Gifford, who was born in England and arrived in the American Colonies around 1643. Most Giffords in America can trace their lines back to this William Gifford, who had many children himself. So that’s not a very big deal.

Edmond’s grandfather, William Gifford, was born in 1741 and served in the Revolutionary War, enlisting in Rhode Island in 1776 and joining Washington’s army at the Battle of White Plains. In his pension application he describes his service in a somewhat lighthearted manner. He traipsed along with Washington down through New Jersey to the Delaware River, after which time his enlistment ended. Then he signed up for three more, serving as substitutes for draftees who paid him for his service. On one campaign his unit was ordered to clean a house that had been used by the army as a small pox hospital.“I remember they gave it a thorough cleaning for they set fire to it and burnt it down”.

William’s son, Hicks Gifford, took his family west to land he purchased on the Embarrass River in 1839 in Coles County, Illinois. However, except for a daughter, his entire family disappeared from the records after the 1840 census. Hicks’ son, Edmond J. Gifford, after serving in the Civil War, was a successful businessman in Petosky, Michigan. He ended his days as a watchman on the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge over the Missouri River in Bismarck, North Dakota. His son Edmond H. Gifford would build railroads, as would his son, Porter William Gifford.

Legend has it that the farm of William and Elizabeth Rentfro was located next to that of the Washington family across the Rappahonock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Young George Washington and young William Rentfro, the 6th child of William and Elizabeth, played together as children; fishing and hunting over the fields. Both wanted to become land surveyors and learned the trade from William’s older brother, James. Young George was trained by James Renfro Sr. to be a surveyor at Ferry Farm along the Rapphannock River. However, this is probably fantasy. But there is documentary evidence that James was a surveyor with Daniel Boone in 1783.

James Renfro Jr. took his pregnant wife Margaret Jackson and fourteen children from Lincoln County, Kentucky to Madison County, Illinois, a short distance from Downing’s station, a fort erected for the protection of the settlers against the Indians. Then James died, leaving poor Margaret with fifteen children. Their granddaughter would marry Edmond J. Gifford in Rock Island, Illinois.

The Roundy family has been extensively research all the way back to Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s. According to his widow’s application for a widow’s pension, Uriah Roundy was a member of General Washington’s “Life Guards” and he fought in some of the battles that William Gifford and William Reuben Briant fought in. Uriah’s son Shadrach was instrumental in the establishment of the Mormon Church.

Another of Uriah’s sons, Daniel Roundy married Ruth Beard, the daughter of another Revolutionary veteran, in 1821. They were first cousins. Daniel served in the war of 1812. Although the lawyer for her application was a former pension examiner himself, her application was rejected numerous times for various reasons. She died in 1894, at the age of 94. 

Daniel and Ruth’s son Porter Wallace Roundy was born in Spafford, New York in 1829, about 90 miles from Utica, where Edmond J. Gifford was born in 1830. Porter’s daughter Nettie May would marry Edmond’s son Edward in Scot, Iowa, in a double wedding with Edward’s brother William. Like Edmond, Porter enlisted at Lincoln’s first call for volunteers and reenlisted as a hospital orderly on March 30, 1864 into the 37thInfantry Regiment Wisconsin in which his brother Daniel Curtis Roundy served as Regiment Surgeon at City Point, Virginia, near Petersburg, where he was a witness to the siege.

Like his grandfather, Hermann Friedrich Bonorden served as a military surgeon in Prussia but was also a renown medical researcher. Hermann Friedrich studied and published articles on several diseases, including syphilis. His scientific work won him a professorship at the Friedrich Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He was so highly respected that he is considered one of the most outstanding physicians of all times in all countries. 

Two years after arriving in America from Prussia, Hermann’s son, Herman Frederich Bonorden, was drafted for three years as a bugler in Company E, 2ndIowa Cavalry. But war did not suit Herman. On May 10, 1862, Herman was put on “extra duty clerk in Q.M. Dpt.” This lead to a career as a Pension Examiner after the war. Herman settled in Davenport, Iowa after the war and married Emma Auguste Döllinger, who had also come to America from Prussia with her family, including her brother, Herman Gustav Döllinger, who kept a detailed diary of the many battles he fought in during the American Civil war.

Thus, my father’s grandparents have converged in Iowa.

My Mother’s Ancestors

My mother was ninety-nine proof Southern stock. Except for the Buttes, who are relatively recent arrivals from Germany, all her other ancestors trace back to the southern colonies, mostly South Carolina. Her ancestors include tavern owners, missionaries and ministers, murderers and law professors, witnesses to the intimidation tactics of the early Klan and large land owners who used enslaved people to work their fields. And, of course, Revolutionary War and a couple of Civil War veterans, but this time on the side of the Confederacy. Although the details of many of her female lines are lost to history, others have left colorful stories. And somehow their descendants end up in, or near, Falls County, Texas. Here is a brief account of a few of them.

The son of a German immigrant, George Charles Felix Butte, after accumulating a number of post graduate degrees, ran for governor of Texas on what some called the “Klan Party”. He heard the news of this on his return from Europe. His opponent, “Ma” Ferguson, charged that, failing to find anybody on land, the “Republican – Ku Klux” crowd had “finally jumped on one poor ignorant professor away out in the middle of the ocean and thrust upon the poor devil for the Republican – Ku Klux nomination for Governor.” Ah, Texas politics.

Meanwhile, George’s brother, Charles Felix Butte, bludgeoned his wife to death, but agreed to give her one last wish to “kiss me goodbye-I’m dying”. Although George was Dean of the Law School at the University of Texas by this time, he did not come to his brother’s defense, perhaps because there was none.

George Butte’s wife, Bertha Woodfin Lattimore descended from Davis Stockton, who, with his friend, Michael Woods, set out into the wilderness west of Charlottesville, Virginia in about 1740 to the lands they had obtained from King George. When they had to part company to travel in different directions, Davis literally marked the occasion by carving his initials, D.S., into a tree. The tree became known as the D.S. Tree and was used as a landmark for decades. It even appears in orders from the Goochland County Court for building roads.

Bertha’s grandfather, Samuel Stockton Lattimore, was born in 1811 and married Francis Ann Compere, the daughter of Lee Compere, one of the most eminent and controversial Baptist missionaries. As a member of the Baptist Mission Society, he served as a missionary among the enslaved people in the British colony of Jamaica. Lee and his wife continued their missionary work with the Creek Indians in Alabama, but then became embroiled in the struggles between white and Creek slave owners and the issue of Indian removal. However, when a request was made for funds to support Lee in his old age, the response was feeble, possibly due to his opposition to slavery.

Samuel Stockton Lattimore joined his father-in-law as a Baptist minister, traveling throughout the antebellum South. A favorite of the Choctaw, Samuel was accused of imbibing. But before anything could be done to help or sanction him, S.S. Lattimore “fell dead in the pulpit”. 

Samuel Stockton Lattimore’s son, Rev. John Lee Lattimore, enlisted as a private in the confederate army and was promoted to 2ndSargent of Company B, 37thMississippi Infantry Regiment which was in Vicksburg during the siege by Union forces. The men served continuously in the trenches, exposed to the scorching midsummer sun and often to chilling nights. 

After the surrender of Vicksburg Rev. John Lee Lattimore came home after being exchanged, and was “subjected to scrubbings and hair cutting, all his clothing burned, before he was allowed to come into the house” by his wife, Catherine Obedience Woodfin. Catherine’s roots can be traced back to 12thcentury Scotland. Her great great grandmother, Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley, was an eminant midwife in colonial Williamsburg.

Katherine Obedience Jones married William Hawthorn Kirkpatrick in South Carolina. Her great grandfather Benjamin Jones was a member of the Long Cane Settlement when it was attacked by Cherokees on February 1, 1760. The details of the Long Cane Massacre were recounted by another survivor, Patrick Calhoun, father of the future Congressman and secessionist, John C Calhoun. Benjamin’s son, Adam Crain Jones, was a representative in the South Caroline legislature when the vote to consider the constitution was only 76 “ayes” and 75 “nayes”, which means that the Constitution came close to not even being considered. 

Before the Civil War broke out, William Hawthorn Kirkpatrick took his family from South Carolina to Texas. It was so rainy and wet that the family, with six children and six “Negros” and six mules, was trapped in Arkansas for two years before they could continue the trip to Texas. We know quite a bit about this trip because William’s son Addison wrote a book about it.

William’s son James Richard Kirkpatrick married Elizabeth Eller King in Texas. He was 35, she 17. There are heartbreaking letters between Lizzie and her brother Wilson in which he expressed his fear of never again seeing his “dear sister”. He wished the War of the Rebellion to end so he could come home. There are also a number of equally heartbreaking, if a little comical, letters from Lizzie’s father, Jefferson David King, who asked for money to come to Texas. He wrote wondering “what kind of a place is Texas ant there no money there”.

William Reuben Briant, born in 1741 married Sarah Tolleson 1762 in South Carolina. The Tollesons operated a tavern at Buzzards Roost. The tavern was the place to go for food, voting, getting liquored up, catching the stage coach, cock fighting, horse racing, and boxing. And Sarah’s father Major John Tolleson made sure people could get there, and pay for the pleasure, by improving the roads, naming them after himself and charging tolls to use them.

William Reuben Briant served in the Revolutionary War. According to the pension application submitted by his wife, William served with General Washington’s army at Pennsylvania and was part of the effort to “cross the Delaware River”, but his unit, as well as others did not make it to Trenton. That makes three ancestors who served at the same time and place, including William Gifford and Uriah Roundy.

Many years later two of William Reuben Briant’s twelve children, William and Reuben, testified before the U.S. Congress Joint Select Committee to Inquire Into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary Statesin 1871 about their experience with and observation of the original Ku Klux Klan. The Committee declared the Ku Klux Klan to be a terrorist organization. 

Another son, Joab Bryant and his wife, Mary Stewart, managed to sit out the War of the Rebellion and had twelve children instead. One of them, John Wesley Bryant, took his wife, Sarah Ann Lively, a first cousin, to Texas to raise eleven children. As with the Kirkpatricks and the Lattimores, there was not much left of South Carolina and other confederate states. Sherman drove a wide swath of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah and up through Columbus, South Carolina, which was entirely destroyed. And Texas promised fortunes to be made.


“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” — Marcus Tullius Cicero 

Well, Cicero may have gone too far, but it is fun to learn about how you came to be where you are.  So much so, that my father and I became obsessed.  This blog is based on a book that I wrote for my children based on my father’s decades of research and what I was able to add to it. I discovered some fascinating history and wove it into the account of my ancestry. It’s also interesting how it all got started.

When my grandmother, Eveline Victoria Bonorden Gifford, died in 1971, we found a hand-drawn family tree in one of her closets along with numerous old photographs.  I made a new hand-drawn copy of the tree and put it and all the photos in an album for my father’s birthday.  When he retired a few years later he decided to try to fill in some of the missing information.  This was at a time when you had to ask for information through the U.S. Postal Service, which you may have heard of.  Some archived information could be obtained only by visiting far-flung towns and going through the library stacks by hand, which he did.  

Despite these difficulties, my father managed to acquire a lot if information this way.  However, he ran into a brick wall on the one line that should be the easiest to follow, the Gifford line.  At least all these men would have the same last name.  But the line ends with his great grandfather Edmond J. Gifford, who claimed on various census records  to be born in 1830 in Utica, Oneida County, New York.  Edmond’s parents were not found in my grandmother’s records.  

Although my father was able to gather a copious amount of information on Edmond’s life after 1850, he found very little about his birth or his parents.  Edmond’s name first appeared in 1850, but he was living on his own by then.  And to make matters impossible, before 1850 the U. S. Census only lists the name of the head of household, so there is no way to use census records to link Edmond to his parents.  The information that he did get was self reported on Edmond’s later census records.  On one census he claimed that his parents were from Vermont and on another, they were from Massachusetts.  My father decided that Edmond must have cut all ties to his family.  My husband started  referring to Edmond as “the horse thief”.

The title, “Speculations”, refers to the inevitability of having to make them in writing any history, even if it is just a family history.  It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces.  You can still lay out the remaining pieces so the picture makes some sense, using your imagination to fill in the blanks.  And then there is always the possibility that one more search under the sofa will turn up a useful morsel that will help connect the disparate pieces.  Kind of like a treasure hunt.    

I will try to keep my focus on the interesting stories that I found, and not get too bogged down in the dates and other minutia.  One thing I have noticed is that my ancestors (mostly the men, because women’s lives were not well documented unless they did so themselves, and most didn’t have the time) where seldom the most notable members of their families.  Often their brothers had more impact on recorded history and therefore more was written about them.  However, one of these brothers was notable only because he bludgeoned his wife to death.  

I do have a few ancestors who left their mark around the country and even around the world. Some came over on the Mayflower. One was a surveyor in Kentucky with Daniel Boone, another was the Personal Guard to General Washington (well, maybe). Several have rivers, roads and valleys named after them, especially in the south.  One was a Dean of the University of Texas Law School and Vice Governor of the Philippines and of Puerto Rico.  One was a world renown botanist.  Several were highly regarded ministers and missionaries.   

The stories I can tell about their lives depend on what I can find.  For some, there are historical records but little about their personal lives.  For others, there are letters and personal accounts that provide details to give a sense of their lives, but only mysteries about how the family came to be where it was.  For some there are photographs that go back to the 19th century.  For others there are none at all.  Some lived during exciting times and I can tell you about these, giving some context to their lives.  So the chapters are inevitably uneven.  And there are several mysteries about how some ancestors ended up where they did in 1900 because the entire 1890 US Census records were burned in a fire in the warehouse in Washington, DC where they were stored.

I have learned that my ancestors come from four of the five main groups of immigrants (the fifth being Africans, none found yet among my ancestors, except in bondage, and possible siblings) whose traditions and language affected the communities where they settled to such a degree that it is hard to imagine how these new Americans could unite to share a common identity as Americans.  I came to wonder about this from reading books on the American Revolution, especially Freedom Just Around the Corner, by Walter A. McDougall.  As McDougall points out, in thinking about these immigrant groups, that it is important to keep in mind the historical context in the 1600-1700s.  Most large immigrant groups were fleeing oppression and/or starvation.  And they all had very distinct habits of family, community, education, work and religion.  I’ll just highlight a few of the most delightful things he says.

The German immigrants included Prussians, Dutch, Swiss and Palatines, as Queen Ann of England labeled them before expelling them.  They brought with them sausage, pretzels, pickles, rye breads, cheeses, wines, beer, cakes and pastries.  Some settled in New Amsterdam, later known as New York (mostly in “Kleindeutschland” in what is now the East Village). Some came to be known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”, not because they were Dutch, but because they were from Deutschland. In a small town of Conestogoe, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, they began a road heading southwest.  This was the beginning of the Great Wagon Road that ran down the valleys of the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia and the Carolinas.  Thousands of settlers who used this road modeled their wagons on the “Conestogoe” wagons of the Germans. 

One group of immigrants that made good use of this road was the Scotch-Irish, Protestant Scots who had migrated to Ireland.  This was one of four distinct groups of English speaking immigrants, the Scotch-Irish being the most numerous one.  And with the least means.  They were fleeing border wars between Protestant and Catholic in Ireland (the border eventually became the one between the Irish Republic and Northern Island and the “troubles” did not cease until recently).  Passing down the Great Wagon Road they named towns like Cumberland, Gallway, Derry and Durham. Their dialects were the foundations of the country and western speech of hillbillies ( “git offa mah prah-pitty”), including subject-verb mismatches (“Them gals is buck nekkid”), double negatives (“I ain’t fixin’ ta rassle no critters”) and double positives “He done did it, jedge, Ah seen him mah own self”).  And they brought their music and their dance, the Irish jig which morphed into the tap dance of Africans held in bondage.  Their experience taught them to be always on guard, fiercely protective of family, loyal to friends and ruthless to enemies.  The communities along the Atlantic seaboard were relieved when these newcomers moved on to the frontier where they could be of no danger to anyone but the Indians.

The Puritans who settled in New England were fleeing religious persecution in eastern England.  They were primarily tradesmen and craftsmen, rather than farmers, and so they did not need to migrate any further in search of more fertile land.  The East Anglicans had a twangy “Down East” accent that tends to add an “r” onto words ending in a vowel (“Ameriker”), soften long vowels (“Aah pahkt mah cah in Havahd Yahd”).  They valued individuality, marriage and family, and believed that sin, temptation and sudden death were everywhere.  They believed in witches and acted on those beliefs. They were stoic, repressed their emotions and shunned proud clothing.  They ate pease porridge (“pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,…”), pumpkins, cornmeal with pork, beef or fish (Boston clam chowder).  They did not celebrate traditional Christmas holidays.

The Society of Friends, or “Quakers” (meaning “to tremble in the way of the Lord”), considered Puritan New England to be oppressive and set out with William Penn to create a “holy experiment” in New England, Pennsylvania and West Jersey.  The Quakers eliminated all traces of formal religion from their lives, believing that all men and women are imbued with a divine inner light.  They were very egalitarian, focusing more on the community than the individual or family.  They brought with them a dialect rich with slang (by golly, bamboozle, chock-full, flabergasted, thingamagig, wallup) but short on grammar.  Children’s education was a family decision, not a community one.

The English royalists uprooted by Cromwell’s takeover of the British government were enticed by the governor of Virginia to immigrate to Virginia by bestowing on them large estates and high offices.  These impoverished noblemen needed cheap labor to work their lands and so held slaves and hired indentured servants to run their large land holdings.  This setting lead to a community that was Anglican, aristocratic, hierarchical, almost entirely rural, enamored of horses and gambling and deeply in debt.  They tended to come from London and Bristol and spoke in languid rhythms, softened consonants and elongated syllables (“taahmaraah is anutha dai”).  They used non-grammatical expression, such as “I be”, “ain’t”, and tended to drop the “g” in “-ing” (“I be bringin’ thah puddin’”).  They enriched the English language with terms like chomp, flapjack, grit, yonder, book-learnin’ and, of course, “tump”.  They smoked “tobacca”, drank wine, valued a dancing master over a tutor, and adorned themselves with elegant clothes.  Unlike Puritans, Virginians wore their coats of arms, not their religion, on their sleeves.

My ancestors can be traced back to the Puritans, Quakers, Germans, the Scotch-Irish of South Carolina and the hills of Kentucky, all on their way to Davenport, Iowa or Falls County, Texas. My ancestors were more adventurous than their parents or siblings or cousins.  They continued to move west as the frontier receded, settling down only when the frontier disappeared or they just got tired.