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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Genealogy Adventure in Kansas

Muddy Road - maybe Axtell??
I usually write about a Shelby County subject on this blog. And I WILL again! The following is an account of my distant cousin Barb’s adventure. She has Shelby County roots but lives in the Kansas City area. Her trip to Axtell, Kansas to assist her friend (who also lives in Shelby County) is well worth the read. Barb has gone beyond the call of duty and deserves to be recognized for her incredible dedication!

Here is Barb’s story, in her own words:

Axtell, A Kansas Adventure

When I left Kansas City at about 8:30 A.M. it was raining. Not a hard driving rain, just a steady constant rain. No worries, I had a huge umbrella so that when I arrived at the cemetery, if it was still raining, I could pop the umbrella and still get the photos I wanted.
The roads and traffic were no problem. Planned to take the Kansas turnpike (I-70) to Topeka then turn north on highway 75. I always take a good book on CD when I travel because it makes the time go by quickly. So I am listening to my book and enjoying the beautiful countryside when I realize that the sign that I just passed said “Welcome to Nebraska”. This was not good. I needed Highway 36 to get to Axtell and it was in Kansas. Back to junction (just 10 miles) and on track again.

I had the Shockley Cemetery located on a map printed before I left home and it was north of Axtell. Took a slight detour through Axtell just to check it out. Tiny town (maybe 250 people) but still has some great looking old buildings on main street.
Leave Axtell heading due west until I reach Highway 99 then turn north looking for Eagle Road. Should be easy to find the cemetery since Eagle Road appears to dead end directly at the cemetery. When I turn onto Eagle Road it changes from black top to gravel. No problem, I’ve driven gravel roads loads of times. Still a steady rain. I am going only about 20 miles per hour so that I can safely gawk at the scenery.

Just over the crest of a hill the road turns a dark color. It appeared like the gravel had been recently sprayed with oil. I slow further. About 20 feet onto the dark gravel, the car feels funny, like when you are on ice and just barely sliding. I slowly stop and try and back up. No dice. It is deep black mud, can’t back up.
At the bottom of the hill is an intersection and I think I will either be able to turn around or continue on a better road. Have much difficulty reaching the bottom of the hill. Much sliding. Decide to turn north because it appears that there is more texture, hopefully gravel. No dice. The mud continues. Much difficulty keeping the car in a forward motion. Wheels spinning. Finally unable to make any forward progress. Actually can’t back up or go forward. Wheels deeply buried in mud. No cell coverage, of course, but who did I think I was going to call anyway. Still a steady rain but now the wind is picking up. Can’t move the car from center of road. It is sitting just over the crest of a hill, dead center of the road….just waiting for someone to top the hill and hit it. Lucky for me no one else can navigate the road either.

There is nothing to do but to hike back to the other road to where I last saw a house, couldn’t be more than a couple of miles. Put on boots, coat, gloves and get big umbrella. Still raining, wind blowing more. When I step out of the car my boots immediately sink above the ankles into the mud. I almost fall when I can’t pick up my foot and I have already moved forward faster than I can make my feet move.
I determine that if I scale the bank on the side of the road I could cut across a corn field and save a little time. The banks are about 4 feet high and solid mud. I grab onto a small tree to pull myself up to the field. At this point I have stopped worrying about getting my clothes muddy. I am a complete mess.

The corn stalks made it a little easier to walk. If I keep walking on them it keeps my feet from sinking into the mud.
A herd of cows had been released into the field to clean up the corn left on the ground. They stare at me (can you imagine what they must be thinking?) as I fight to remain upright, the umbrella still pushing steadily from behind.

The farm house came into view and I was much relieved. Crossing my fingers that someone was home I crossed the muddy road. When a little old man, stooped and using a walker, answered the door, my heart sank. He looked so frail that the wind would easily blow him over if he stepped outside. He asked me to come into his house, but when I looked down and saw a good three inches of mud coating my boots, I politely declined.
I explain my situation and then he calmly looks at me and asks, “What are you going to do?” Great question.

About the time I ask whether or not they have a tractor that could pull my car out of the mud, a much younger man peers around the door. He is the son of the older man. We agree to meet in the garage to discuss our options. It is still raining and the wind is blowing hard. The son locates a tractor and points it toward the car. I climb aboard and we slowly make our way down the muddy road to my car. The wheels of the tractor are kicking mud up onto us. (Wish I had a picture of the tractor, with the two of us on it, all muddy).
At the car, we can’t find a connection for the chain to the undercarriage on the rear passenger side, only on the driver’s side. The son hooks a chain onto it, I put the car in reverse and the tractor begins to pull. The idea was that I could help the wheels turn and steer with the front barely on the road. He slowly pulls the car around the corner and up the hill until it is on the gravel.

I give him all the cash in my purse, a hug, and a big thank you. Before I can get the car turned around, he is back to the barn.
I have come a long way to just head for home, so I check my map and try to find another route to the cemetery. One that is paved. It is not obvious from the map I have, so I head back to Axtell and discuss my options with the Post Mistress. She gets out her routing maps and decides that the closest I could get (staying on gravel roads) would be a couple of miles from the cemetery. It is still raining steadily. I give up on visiting the cemetery.

The library is a tiny store front on the main street. It is about the size of most living rooms and not at all crowded with books. I learn later that the library is only open one day a week. How lucky for me it was the day I was in Axtell.
The librarian explains that they do not have much on genealogy, but show me the “shelf” containing high school yearbooks, recent phone books, etc. The most interesting were a couple of binders with newspaper clippings encased in plastic.

Before I had turned two pages there was information on the Smith family. I was shocked that such great info was so easy to find, relieved that I hadn’t made a trip for nothing and extremely grateful.
It was getting dark and for the first time I was concerned about the rain. Driving in daylight with rain is one thing, but it is much more of a challenge when it gets dark. So I quickly copy the articles, pay for the copies and hop in my car.

Feeling quite smug about my accomplishments for the day (getting stuck in the mud, getting pulled out of the mud and best of all – finding information about the Smith family) I was riding high.
About 45 minutes into my drive, I stop for gas and to wash a little of the mud off my car before it dries. When I reach for my credit card to pay for the gas, I realize that my purse is missing and the only cash I have is the change I keep in the car for the car wash (of which I had just used several dollars’ worth) which in now only $3.00.

Now I am in a panic. I know the library in closing very soon, that after it closes I will have no way of getting my purse and I have very little gas left.
With a couple of gallons of gas, I head back to Axell to get my purse. When I walk in the door, the librarian looks at me and says, “Are you back?” My purse is still sitting on the table, exactly where I left it. The library was to close in 5 minutes.

Feeling much relieved and thankful, I again head for Kansas City. The rain is still coming down. Visibility is poor. The large trucks stir up so much spray that when my headlights catch it, I cannot see anything. A very tense drive.
After finally arriving home and resisting the urge to go straight to bed, I spend hours cleaning mud off my boots and sneakers. It is so sticky that I swear it could be used for glue!

(Barb adds – “Just another crazy genealogy story!”)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Remembering Our World War II Shelby County Fallen Soldiers

During this week of the Fourth of July, as we celebrate our country’s birthday, it is my wish to remember some of the very special, brave Shelby County men who died in World War II.

From the Shelbyville Democrat – Thursday February 24, 1944:


Clifford DeBaun, Seaman, Dead as Result of Burns Received in Pacific Battle
The 16th name has been added to Shelby county’s list of war dead following word received by Mr. and Mrs. John DeBaun, of 623 West South St., that their son, Seaman First Class Clifford L. DeBaun, age 19, died on February 11 of multiple burns received while in performance of his duty in the Pacific Theater of war.

The War Department telegram received by Mr. and Mrs. DeBaun gave no details of his death but stated that the body of their son had been interred in Allied territory outside the continental United States until cessation of hostilities.
The young man had been in the service for one year and four months. He enlisted in the Navy on October 1, 1942 and took boot training at Great Lakes, Ill. He had been home only once since enlisting. His last letter to his parents was written on January 19.

Seaman DeBaun was born in Shelby county on November 26, 1922. He attended the local high school and was employed at the Alberts Furniture Factory at the time of his enlistment.
He is survived by the parents, two sisters, Grace and Doris, at home, and three brothers, Ray, Freddie and Ira DeBaun, all of Shelbyville. Other survivors include the aged grandfather, Henry Jacob DeBaun, two nephews and one niece.

The father and three brothers are all employed in defense work in Indianapolis.


The Shelbyville Democrat – March 2, 1944

The 17th Shelby county “killed in action” casualty for the present World War has been recorded.

Capt. Kimble Midkiff, son of Mrs. Ethel Midkiff, of 618 South Miller St., was killed in action in Italy on February 5, according to a telegram received from the War Department by the young man’s mother.
No details connected with the death were revealed in the War Department’s notification.

Captain Midkiff was 23 years of age, having been born August 3, 1920. He attended Shelbyville high school and was an outstanding member of the school’s band and orchestra. He also was a member of the 151st Infantry Band of the Former National Guard for three years. He was a member of William Hacker Chapter, Order of DeMolay, and of the First Baptist Church and choir.
The young man enlisted in the 11th Infantry Band at Fort Harrison in 1939. He went to Bermuda in 1941, where he was a life guard at Castle Harbor hotel while serving with the 89th Infantry.  Returning in September, 1941, to enter officer’s training at Fort Benning, Ga., he received his commission as a second lieutenant in December, 1841. He was sent to Ireland with the 135rh Infantry in April, 1942, and with a convoy to Algeria on November 8, 1942. He served through the Tunisian campaign and at famous “Hill 609”. He was advanced to the rank of captain in June 1943.

Captain Midkiff was wounded in Italy October 15, 1943, and received the Purple Heart. After leaving the hospital he was made adjutant of the 1st Battalion Headquarters.
Captain Midkiff’s father died in 1927 and a sister preceded him in death in 1934.

Besides the mother, he leaves two sisters, Mrs. William Ash, of this city, and Mrs. Paul V. Maxwell of Cincinnati, O., and a brother Paul Midkiff, of Tacoma, Washington. Other survivors are four nieces, three nephews and several distant relatives.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

World War II Memorial, Washington, DC

Celebrating the Fourth of July

Several years ago, during the week of the Fourth of July, I was watching (for the umpteenth time) The Patriot. This film is about the Revolutionary War in the southern states and tells about the bravery of the local militias.

I always hope that at least one tv station will show this film when the Fourth of July rolls around each year. This film makes me feel proud of the brave men and women who stood up for their young country and put their lives on the line.

However, we must also remember the many other wars we have been engaged in, defending and protecting our rights and freedoms so that we might live the way our ancestors planned (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”).

In the 1944 editions of the Shelbyville Democrat, I began to realize just what sacrifices the young men of Shelby County had made during World War II.  It was quite overwhelming to turn each page of the 1944 obituary book and see the names of those young men who died for US. It must have been a terrible, dark time for the families who had sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and yes, sisters and aunts in the service at that time.

Here are a few examples of the headlines from the Shelbyville Democrat during February and March of 1944:

Thurs. 24 Feb. 1944
CITY PHYSICIAN DIES IN ALGERIA – Capt. Harry D. Miller, Prominent Local Doctor in Army Medical Corps, Killed in Accident

Thurs. 24 Feb. 1944
COUNTY’S WAR CASUALTY LIST MOUNTS TO 16 – Clifford DeBaun, Seaman, Dead as Result of Burns Received in Pacific Battle

Thurs. 2 Mar. 1944
ONE KILLED, ANOTHER MISSING – Capt. Kimble Midkiff lost his life, Sgt. Clifford E. Henderson missing (Note: Cliff was an old friend of my Dad’s. Dad told me the Mr. Henderson had been a POW for much for the war.)

Thurs. 9 Mar. 1944
JOHN V. YARLING KILLED IN ITALY -- Son of Thomas E. Yarling Dies in Accident, Youth is 18th to Lose Life in War.

Thurs. 16 Mar. 1944
CITY WOMAN’S NEPHEW IS KILLED IN ACTION – Pvt. Duard Henson was killed in action on February 7 (he was 19 years old).

Thurs. 30 Mar 1944
BODY OF LT. KERCHER RECOVERED FROM SEA – Burial will Take Place in Shelbyille

The obituaries continue throughout the year with many names and details of the brave service members from Shelby County who died during World War II. It is heartbreaking to read their stories, to know they were all so young. Many left widows with small children and grieving aged parents.

Sometimes I feel that World War II has been overlooked by recent generations. We are all caught up with stories from the Civil War and the American Revolution, those stories and records are all over the internet. Only recently have World War II records become more accessible.

I hope we will all remember our World War II family members and wave a flag for them this Fourth of July!!  And let us also honor and salute all those among us who have recently served so bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have many American heroes, both past and present, to be proud of  --


(I will begin adding some of these obituaries to my blog – I think it is important to remember all of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ethel Williams Received A Civil War Pension


Ethel Williams was a great-uncle that I never knew. In fact, I didn't  know he existed until I found a book titled:  A HISTORY OF WILLIAM WILLIAMS AND HIS DESCENDANTS by Isaac Williams. When I found this book in the library at Anderson, Indiana, it was about 1980. I had been researching my Dad’s family for a few years and could only go back as far as his grandfather, Newton E. Williams. This little book opened up a whole new world of Williamses for me!
My great-great grandfather, Jesse M. Williams, was born in Madison County, Indiana. He was a Civil war veteran, serving in the 47th Indiana Infantry, Company E. He received a medical discharge in late 1862 due to severe heart problems.

Jesse and his family moved to Shelby County in the mid-1880s. They lived in Fairland, where Jesse and his son Newton established a brick factory, then later a grain elevator. Newton stayed in Shelby County, raising his family in Fairland, while his parents Jesse and Margaret Cottrell Williams, later moved to Indianapolis and opened a grocery store.

Jesse’s son (Newton’s brother), Ethel (yes, an odd name for a male) was born 22 October 1874. When he was very young, he contracted diphtheria which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It is written in his pension papers that he was partially paralyzed and could not speak. In fact, he was referred to as “idiotic”. It must have been a sad life for this Williams family.
After Ethel’s parents passed away, he lived with his niece, Margaret Williams Fox, in Wannamaker. In 1952, the family learned that Ethel was eligible for a “death benefit” pension because his father had been in the Civil War. I received all of Ethel's pension papers quite by accident when I ordered the pension papers for his father, Jesse M. Williams.

I ordered these pension papers from the National Archives. To my surprise, the Archives sent me a letter saying that the pension papers for Jesse were not in the Archives. To get them, I had to fill out forms from the Freedom of Information Act, which I had never done before. After submitting the required forms, I received a short letter telling me that the pension file was being copied and would  be sent from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Oakland, California. I thought all of this was very unusual. I had ordered several Civil War Pension records prior to ordering Jesse’s and never had an experience like this.
It took quite awhile, but when the pension papers finally arrived, they were very interesting. I was totally surprised that Jesse’s son, Ethel, had lived to be 89 years old and that he was receiving a Civil War pension at the time of his death – in 1964!

Another surprising fact was found when I researched Ethel’s death: I learned he was living on N. Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis when he passed away. It was a nursing home then, in 1964. When I received this information, in 2007, my cousin Jon was living on N. Pennsylvania St. just one block from the former nursing home. He took a photo of the house for me – now a lawyer’s office. It is a lovely old house. I hope Ethel was happy there and not suffering.
While this is certainly a sad story, it is of great interest.  Ethel lived for such a long time and was still receiving a Civil War pension nearly 100 years after the war ended.

Recently, I saw an article on the internet that said there are two people in the U.S. who are still receiving Civil War pensions. After reading this, I did a little research and found that only invalid or disabled children of veterans are eligible for this type of pension. Ethel’s papers indicate that these pensions were approved by Congress as late as the 1950s for the children of veterans of the Civil War.
If anyone else has a similar story to share, or more details about these Civil War pensions, I would appreciate hearing from you. AND if anyone in the family has a photo or more information about Ethel, I would really love to hear from you.  I think Ethel was a very special ancestor.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

North Carolina to Shelby County, Indiana

Rockingham County, NC - highlighted in red

While researching some of my Shelby County ancestors who lived in Moral Township I found many families from that area who had migrated from various counties in North Carolina (where I currently live). An overwhelming number of the Moral Township families came from Rockingham County, North Carolina.
On a visit to the library in High Point, N. C. (which has a wonderful genealogy room) I decided to see how many of the Shelby County families had left behind records in both Guilford and Rockingham Counties. (Rockingham was formed from Guilford in 1785) The High Point Library is located in Guilford County and has a good collection of books from both counties. However, I ended up spending the day with the Rockingham County records – and didn’t get through all of them. I plan to go back soon and see what else I can “dig up”!

Before I went to High Point, I checked two good books about Shelby County for names to research. These books: The Genealogy of Moral Township, Shelby County, Indiana and History of Shelby County, Indiana by Edward H. Chadwick contain numerous family histories and biographies. In Chadwick’s book I found MANY families that had roots in North Carolina, not just the Moral Township families. I made lists and notes about the N.C. families and took them with me to High Point.

These families are just a few that I found in the early deed and will books for Rockingham County:

Cayton – Jacob, James and William
Cobler – Frederick, Christopher, Nicholas, Alsy, and Williamson
Coffee – Joshua
Coley - James and Maynard
Joyce – Alexander, Elisha, John, Thomas and Phebe
Martin – Peter, Richard, and  more
Means – Robert, William, and Elizabeth
Moberly – William, Thomas
Odell – Jeremiah, Jesse, John, and more

Smith – Drury, Thomas and more

I would like to recommend one book that I found in the Lexington, N.C. library. The title is: Early Families of the N. C. Counties of Rockingham and Stokes with Revolutionary Service, published by the James Hunter Chapter NSDAR of Madison, N.C.  This book is full of family histories and includes details of their involvement in the Revolutionary War. It has many familiar names that are also found in Shelby County.
The Means family information in the above named book is of special interest to me (I have several connections to this family). The book has an excerpt from an old letter written in 1870 by Dr. David Means, a grandson of Robert Means. It tells about Robert’s service in the Revolutionary War. The book also has an interesting extract from Robert Means’ will, probated in August 1822 in Rockingham County, N.C.

A few other families of interest in this book with Shelby County connections were Cobler, Coffey and Moore.
This will be an ongoing project – connecting our Shelby County families to their North Carolina roots. I hope you will find it as interesting as I do!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Obituary Sunday

Obituary from Shelbyville, Ind. Republican:

15 Dec. 1930

Death Enters Fairland Home

Mrs. N. E. Williams, Sixty-One

Ill for Ten Months Succombs At Home

Leaves Husband, Children            
Sufferings of Mrs. Harriett E. Williams, sixty-one years old, wife of N.E. Williams, former trustee of Brandywine township, were ended in death at 8:30 o'clock Sunday morning in their home in Fairland. She never fully recovered from a leg amputtation which she underwent last April in an effort to prolong life.

Mrs. Williams was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Imel Rush. She was born in Sugar Creek township February 8, 1869, and her entire life had been spent in Shelby County.

Her marriage to Mr. Williams took place on March 11, 1888. All of the six children born to them survive. They are Mrs. W. S. Fox, of New Bethel; J. Carl Williams of Fairland; Meredith W. Williams of Edinburg; Edith, Geneva and French Williams all of the home. Three brothers, a half-brother and four sisters also survive: Robert Rush of Logansport; Percy Rush of New Orleans, La.; Alfred Rush of Fairland; Mrs. Ollie Means of Logansport; Mrs. L.C. Means of Dupont; Mrs. B. E. Norvell of Houston, Tex; Mrs. H. Taylor of Marion, Ohio, and James Rush of Frankfort. Mrs. Williams also leaves ten grandchildren.

Devoted to her family and to her friends and active as a member of the Fairland Baptist Church, Mrs. Williams was held in high esteem in her community. She was also a member of the Eastern Star chapter at Fairland, which organization will take part in the funeral.

Burial will be in the family lots in the Fairland cemetery following the funeral service to be held at 10:30 o'clock. Wednesday morning in the Fairland Baptist Church. Rev. Otto Hughes of Columbus, former pastor of the Fairland Church, will deliver the funeral sermon. C.F. Fix & Son are the funeral directors in charge.

Note: Harriett Smith Rush was the daughter of William Smith Rush and Elizabeth Imel Rush. She was my great grandmother and lived in the Fairland area of Shelby County her whole life. Harriett lost her leg to gangrene and never fully recovered from the operation, dying at age 61. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Obituary Sunday


My Great-great Grandfather "Grampa Fred"
Fairland, Shelby County, Indiana

Civil War Veteran Died At Fairland

William Fred Steward, Retired
Farmer, Passed Away Early
This Morning

William Fred Steward, prominently known retired farmer and a veteran of the Civil War, died at 3:30 o'clock this morning at his home in Fairland following an extended illness due to senility. Mr. Steward had been in declining health for several months and during the past few days his condition had been extremely critical.

Funeral services will be conducted at 10:30 o'clock Saturday morning from the Fairland M.E. Church with the Rev. M.E. Able and the Rev. William Ryland officiating. Burial will be in the Brandywine Cemetery in charge of Ralph J. Edwards funeral director.

Mr. Steward had spent practically his entire lifetime in Shelby County and had been engaged in farming until he was forced to retire due to the condition of his health. He was born November 6, 1844, being at the time of death 83 years, one month, and 16 days old.

On Oct. 7, 1861, he enlisted in Co. G of the 29th Regiment and served continuously until Dec. 2, 1865. Before his first period expired on Dec. 2, 1863, he re-enlisted, serving the entire period of the war.

He was a member of the Fairland M.E. Church and had always been active in affairs of the church and of his home community.

He leaves a son, James Steward, a daughter Mrs. Carl Parker, 12 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren, all of the Fairland community. Friends are asked to please omit flowers.

The Shelbyville Republican
December 22, 1929
(This obituary was written by James M. Steward, the son of William F. Steward)