Tombstone Tuesday: Josephine Tewksbury Williams Wheeler

Josephine Tewksbury William Wheeler tombstone

For many years we had no idea where my great-grandmother, the woman born Nancy Josephine Tewksbury, was buried. The only information we had was that she died somewhere in California.  Thanks to information received from distant relatives we were able to locate her grave and my parents were able to visit it. My dad took pictures there, including the one shown above, which provide a sense of closure.

Nancy Josephine Tewksbury was the only child of Thomas and Matilda Slater. Her surname is spelled correctly in the book but her father’s name was spelled “Tewksberry” in the same record. She was born October 6, 1872 in Scipio Township, Meigs County, Ohio.  [1]

Josephine, as she was known, lived throughout her childhood near the line between Meigs and Athens counties. Her maternal grandparents both died about a year before she was born and her paternal grandmother died when she was three years old. Her Grandpa Tewksbury died when she was almost 10 years old.  She had several aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of her family that lived in the towns and nearby farms. At least once she crossed the county line into Athens to visit town-dwelling family as The Athens Herald gossip tidbits relate that “Miss Josephine Tewksbury visited her aunt, Mrs. Cowan, of this place last week.” [2]


Pearley and Josephine. Portrait taken in Perry County, OH, circa 1900.

On Christmas Eve, 1892 “Phenie” Tewksbury married Pearl Williams, age 18, the Rev. N.E. Musser officiating. [3]  Josephine’s father died the following March. [4] Her mother later remarried but was buried next to Josephine’s father. (See my post at my other blog about Matilda Slater and the difficulties I encountered trying to find her trail after Thomas’s death.)

The babies began coming, uh, fast and furiously. The first child was born in August, 1893 and there would be a total of 10 births, 9 children that grew to adulthood, before they were finished procreating. Sometime between the birth of the third child in October, 1896 and the birth of the fourth in November 1898 the family moved to Perry County, Ohio. [5] They stayed in that area only a few more years, but long enough to have another child in December, 1899. [Ibid.] They were living in Bearfield Township, Perry County at the time the 1900 census which was taken on June 19th. Josephine’s mother and step-father were enumerated on the same page, but Pearley’s father and mother had left Ohio and settled in Arapahoe District, Furnas, Nebraska by that time. Pearley and Josephine would soon follow the Williams family on a journey throughout the midwestern and western United States.

Between the years 1902 and 1910 there were four more children born that could be documented. I cannot find another one but Josephine stated in the 1910 census that she had given birth to 9 children and that 8 of them were living. This census was taken just 8 days before Josephine gave birth to their last child, the tenth birth and ninth living child. [6]  In September, 1902 they had a child born in Nebraska; in September, 1904 they lived in Missouri; in March, 1906 they lived in Iowa; and in May, 1910 they lived in Laramie, Wyoming. It seems likely that the child that died was born between 1906 and 1910 but exactly where and when would be hard to determine.

Josephine with 3 of her youngest children, perhaps circa 1915

Josephine with 3 of her youngest children, perhaps circa 1915

The family seems to have continued the nomadic life for a few more years as they attempted to make a living and a life. They were in Iowa at the time of the 1915 census but were in Omaha, Nebraska  on South 32nd Street by the time of the draft registration in 1918. Pearley and the older boys registered. [7] This much we could establish before losing the trail.

Then the marriage between Pearley and Josephine fell apart and the couple separated. Some of the children remained in Nebraska, some moved to California, and one came east with Pearley and his parents. My grandpa was separated from his mother and apparently never saw Josephine again.  The information that was passed down was sketchy and heartbreaking.

Thankfully, about 30 years after the family had fragmented some of the children reconnected with each other and criss-crossed the country getting reacquainted. Just a few years ago one of my aunts contacted one cousin for more information since we could not find any death records online for Josephine Williams in California that fit our relative. One of the Nebraska cousins knew that she had remarried to a man by the last name of Wheeler and even knew the cemetery where she was buried.

Remarriage meant a divorce decree so I contacted the Douglas County probate to see if there was any record of it there.  There was, but it breaks my heart to read it.

Pearley-Josephine divorce decree edit

Due to extreme cruelty and non-support as the direct result of intemperance, Josephine filed for divorce on February 19, 1920 and was granted an absolute decree on April 23, 1920. She asked for custody of the five youngest children – and then changed her mind about this, evidently – thus a marriage tragically ended after 27 years and a son lost all ties to his mother.

After I received the divorce decree  I contacted Nebraska for a copy of the marriage report between Josephine Williams and Truman W. Wheeler. I received a copy of this document also. Their marriage took place on 15 February, 1921 in Omaha and the officiant was C. W. Savidge. It was Mr. Wheeler’s second marriage also.

Thanks to the fine newsletters received regularly from NEHGS I was made aware of several of the Omaha records that have indices online. The following link lists the marriage between Josephine and Mr. Wheeler: Although I already have this information there are links to many databases in the area that I intend to explore further.

The last document that puts the final touch on Josephine’s life is her death certificate obtained from Los Angeles, California. I also received a transcription of her husband’s death certificate courtesy of a kind genealogical volunteer. Josephine’s husband, Truman, died on July 3, 1923 of what I think was kidney failure. He was working in real estate and they had lived in California for 2 years. Josephine died just a few months later on Septermber 27th of carcinoma. They were buried next to each other in Inglewood Park Cemetery.Truman Wheeler tombston


[2] The Athens Herald, February 26, 1891 edition under the heading ALBANY ECHOES, page 1.
[3] I saw the original record in Meigs County, OH marriage records Volume 9, page 97 many years ago, but the original books were closed to copying. The reference is also found in the book MEIGS COUNTY OHIO MARRIAGES 1819-1913, compiled by Wes Cochran in July 1991, page 390. I viewed a copy of this book in the Ohio University Library.
[4] MEIGS COUNTY PROBATE DEATH RECORDS, Volume 1, 1867-1908, page 316.
[6] 1910 Census, LaGrange, Laramie, Wyoming, taken 16 May 1910.
[7] 1915 Iowa State Census and World War 1 Draft Registration abstracts obtained courtesy of
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Amanuensis Monday: The Will of James Critchlow (Sr.)

(Transcription is line-by-line and done to the best of my ability. Note: this was edited to correct the typo of the word “dollars” on the bottom of page 2 but all other misspelled words are as they appear to be written in the original.)

James Critchlow (1754-1834)Critchlow Will 1

Critchlow Will 2(Page 1)

In the name of God Amen I James Critchlow of Butler

Township County of Butler and State of Pennsylvania

being weak in Body but of Sound memory and Understand-

ing Praised be to God for the Same and considering

the Ceartainty of Death and the uncertainty of the time

thereof and being desirous to Settle and adjust my

worldly business, and Estate before I am called hence

and be no more, do therefore make and declare this my

last Will and testament in manner following to wit

And first I Commend my Soul to God that gave it

and my Body to the Dust to rest in hope until the

day of final Redemtion resting on the merits and

mediation of Jesus Christ for my Justification

and acceptance before God –

I will that all my Just Debts that Shall by me

owing at my Death together with all my funeral

expenses and all charges touching the proving or

otherwise concerning this my Will That in the first

place be paid out of my personal Estate the residue of what

namely all my Household goods farming utensils livestock

finally all my moveable property chattels go to my [unreadable]

and loving wife and my children David Jane and Elenor

(who is Deaf and Dumb) together with my farm house

Improvements appurtenances & not including in

tracts hereafter Discribed willed to my Sons

James and Archibald, and my wife Mary shall

all the proper rents in income of the aforesaid farm

and moveable property under her direction and

contract during her natural life for her Support

Critchlow Will 3(Page 2)

and the Support and maintainance of the

aforesaid David Jane and Elenor my Deaf and Dumb

Children and it is my will that what remains of

the moveable property and the income of the farm

Shall remain for the Support of the Deaf and Dumb

Children in the hands or under the direction of

guardians chosen by my Said wife in her life and

by the Orphan’s Court and at the Death of the

last surviving of the Said children then the

farm or part of my tract aforesaid so remaining

I will to my two Sons James and Archibald

Giving my Son James the northeast side of my

farm by running a straight line through the lane

that now passes my House and Barn leaving

the lane to my Son James and the Building

attached thereto Also I will to my Son Archibald

the southwest side of my farm.

And to my Son James I will and bequeath fifty

acres of my tracts of land including his improvements

to be divided in the following manner to wit to

Commence in the northwest corner thereby

the west boundary to the creek adjoining William [name unreadable]

or Chew to the line of William Critchlow heirs thence

along Said Land to a [????] lot of land Sold to William

Critchlow in his lifetime by me thence by a straight

(????) giving the improvement to the northeast line

of my tract and to my Son Archibald I will

and bequeath fifth acres Acres bounded on the west

by my Son James on the south by the heirs

of William Critchlow on the east by Chew Land

and on the North by a paralel line with the

partition fence making an [word marked out] oblong

Square to include fifty acres and [blot] [????]

And to my two Daughters Marthan and Mary

I will and bequeath thirty Dollars each to be

Critchlow Will 4(Page 3)

paid them by my two sons James

and Archibald at my wifes

Death James to pay Martha and Archibald

to pay Mary and I make and ordain my

Sons James and Archibald and John Scranton

Executors of this my last Will and testament

In testimony whereof I have set my hand

and Seal this third day of June A.D. 1830

Signed, Sealed and                          his

Acknowledged in             James  X  Critchlow                     (seal)

Presence of                                        mark


John Scranton

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Sentimental Sunday: Rescuing Treasure from the Trash

It was the perfect day for dumpster diving if you’re into that kind of thing, which I’m not, although I was with an experienced diver at the time.

(That would be my husband who had been initiated about 20 years ago when he lost his wallet at a convenience mart while buying gas for the car and snacks for himself and our daughter – who should have been watching him in my absence – while I was out-of-town. I should add that he had not done any dumpster diving since.  At least, not until this episode.)

The winter rain/snow/sleet had paused just long enough for us to take the things we had saved to our recycling center, a long row of dumpsters placed in the parking lot of a local community center. Our goal was to put things into it, not get things out. Really. “Retrieving” is not what comes to mind whenever I think of the 3 R’s in the phrase used to remind us to live green.

As my husband opened the trunk of our car I surveyed the nearest dumpster. It isn’t unusual to make our way down the row before finding one that isn’t filled to capacity. This one was not quite full.

I was surprised, though, at what I encountered. The topmost layer contained papers and books many years past their prime. While moving aside a Britannica volume to make way for our  cardboard I spied the tell-tale spine of a photo album! I couldn’t reach it so my husband obtained it for me.

(He did not physically climb into the dumpster although he would have done so if necessary because I was not leaving that album in there!)

An inspection revealed gorgeous full-size portraits from long ago. The lovely bride and the handsome groom as well as their attendants and families smiled back at us from glossy black and white photographs. This had to be a mistake! Who throws away heirloom portraits?

Well, someone might but I don’t. I’m the person who grieves while seated beneath the portraits hanging beside me whenever I eat at a Cracker Barrel because there are families who have forgotten the identities of their forebears and what were once-beloved portraits find themselves being sold at flea markets. And anyone who enters our home knows that there is more than the usual reason why our family room is called that. It literally is adorned with framed pictures of our ancestors upon its shelves and walls. Okay, so I am a sentimental fool when it comes to heirloom portraits. This was what convinced me to make an effort to locate a living relative of the nuptial couple.

This sounds like a simple decision made without debate, but it wasn’t. We weighed our options carefully before putting other people’s castoffs into our car. Are there laws against pulling stuff out of recycling dumpsters? Did the person who discarded this no longer want it? If so, would they be angry at me for tracking them down? What if we found ourselves in the middle of a family feud because this album was a casualty of a probate war? Also, there were no names or dates in the album so how could we find relatives if we couldn’t even identify the people in it?

That last problem was soon remedied. With us still standing on the outside of the dumpster,  further diving revealed a manila folder containing more photographs, the proofs from the wedding album, and a notation giving the date of the wedding which occurred while World War 2 was still in progress! A couple of names were written on one side of the folder so now there was enough information for thorough research.

I began researching these names and dates just like I would if I had suddenly discovered information for my own family tree. What I uncovered was a two-person obituary for both individuals whose names were listed on the folder. It contained the names of several children and grandchildren, the name of the funeral home, and the date of death. I searched for the children’s contact information and discovered that most of them were not locals. I decided to call the funeral home that had handled the arrangements to see if they could advise me. Even though several months had passed since the deaths they remembered the family.

The funeral director gave my contact information to one of the surviving children who then called me. We arranged to meet to transfer these beloved heirlooms. These children lost both their father and mother and had arranged to meet in the spring to deal with their parents’ home and its contents. The wedding album had accidentally been taken to the dumpster. After months of grief followed by the emotionally and physically draining work of clearing their parents’ possessions, it made my sentimental heart happy that at least they had their parents’ wedding album back as a keepsake once again.

wedding albumAlthough I have no plans to make dumpster diving a regular activity, I am very happy to relate that this past endeavor was a successful one, as was the one almost 20 years ago when my husband found his wallet among the various oil cans and candy wrappers next to the gas station/convenience store.

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