Monday, November 30, 2009

COG 85: Orphans and Orphans

This article is written for the 85th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Greta's Genealogy Bog.

It all started with seven names written on a piece of paper:

Zerlinda Jane Pitts born 11 Mar 1854 (Bert's mother)
Joseph Anderson Pitts born 26 Feb 1855
Ruth Ann Pitts born 12 Mar 1856
James Marion Pitts born 5 Apr 1857
Nathan Rich born 29 Apr 1861
Dora Clark born 10 Jan 1865
Nora B Yisley born 5 Jun 1872

Who are they? And better yet, how do they relate to me?

My paternal grandmother gave me this piece of paper along with many others related to her family's history shortly after my marriage a dozen years ago. When we talked about this particular paper, she told me she thought Zerlinda Jane Pitts was her grandmother on her father's side (her father was Bert which I already knew). She assumed the other three Pitts' were siblings but Nathan, Dora and Nora were a mystery.

I knew that Zerlinda Jane typically went by Jennie (wouldn't you if your name was Zerlinda?) based upon the census records after she married Conrad Coons Scott. I can't list the countless searches I did of online census records looking for a Jennie Pitts. Then I switched to Zerlinda and still nothing. I continued searching on Joseph, Ruth, and finally James. That gave me on hit: a James Pitts in the 1860 census in Oskaloosa, Jefferson, Kansas. James was 3, Cylinda was age 6, and Medina was 27. I already knew that my grandma's family had ties to Jefferson and Johnson counties in Kansas so this was a very likely possibility. And I could also see how Zerlinda could be butchered by a census taker into Cylinda. But where was Ruth and Joseph and what about a father?

As time went on, I managed to piece together the pieces of a sad, sad tale. Medina Scherer (alternately spelled Sherer or Shearer) married Absalom Stroud Pitts on the 10th of July 1853 in Lee County, Iowa. They had four children, as listed above: Zerlinda, Joseph, Ruth and James. Tragedy struck the young Pitts family not once, not twice, but three times in a short two-year period. Joseph died in April 1856, Absalom in August 1857 and Ruth in September 1857 just three short weeks later.

How Medina ended up with her two remaining children in Jefferson Co, Kansas from Lee Co, Iowa is not known, but it's safe to say the next few years were very eventful for her and her two young children. The 1860 census that I referred to above was taken on the 26 July 1860. According to another researcher Medina married James Rich on 29 July 1860 in Oskaloosa. James Rich can be found in the Mission Creek, Waubaunsee, Kansas census taken 24 July 1860 with Medina age 30, Jane age 6 and Wm age 3. Did James list Medina and the children before they had actually moved in and he got their names and ages wrong? Or were Medina and the children already living there prior to the marriage? I tend to think the first one is more likely as Medina is listed on her own in Oskaloosa days before the marriage and that an overzealous James listed household members that had yet to move in. Medina and James had one son, Nathan Samuel Rich born 29 April 1861, before tragedy struck yet again. James died in 1861 as a result of injuries sustained while digging a well supposedly near the Kansas State Capital grounds.

Medina married yet a third time to Samuel Hamilton Clark on 7 Mar 1865. They had one daughter, Dora, born 10 Jan 1865. From what I understand those dates are correct meaning that their daughter Dora was born nearly two months prior to their marriage. I don't know what happened to Samuel but likely by 1869, Medina and children were living in Nodaway Co, Missouri. One researcher shared the tidbit that Medina left Samuel and noted their divorce was finalized 30 Nov 1870.

Medina married for a final time to widower David Yeisley in December 1870 in Nodaway Co, Missouri. Medina and David had two children: Nora B in 1872 and Walter in 1875. Medina and David are buried at Swinford Cemetery, Nodaway Co, Missouri. A descendant provided their headstone photo on Find A Grave.

So where did my great-great-grandmother, Zerlinda Jane "Jennie" Pitts, go in all this shuffle? On 8 Aug 1869 at the age of 15, Jennie married Conrad Coons Scott in Nodaway Co, Missouri. By this time, she had lost two full-blood siblings, her father Absalom, her first step-father James Rich, and it appears her mother Medina was already on the outs with Jennie's second step-father Samuel Clark. It should also be noted that James Pitts, Nathan Rich, Dora Clark, as well as Nora and Walter Yeisley all went on to live fairly long lives, married and had children. But Jennie was the oldest of all the children and she saw it all unravel.

When I first began researching Conrad and Jennie, I always wondered why she married at age 15 to someone who was nine years her senior. After researching her mother's life, I finally found some answers. Even though Jennie wasn't a true orphan in that she didn't lose BOTH biological parents, there was clearly enough instability in her early years that hope for a good and stable marriage must have pushed her to it at such a young age. She had better luck than her mother. Jennie and Conrad were married for 35 years until his death in 1904 in Desoto, Johnson, Kansas. She passed away two years later in Loring, Wyandotte, Kansas. They had six children of which at least three lived to adulthood.

With thanks to researchers Dave W. and Mel C. for sharing some of the above information with me.


  1. This is a fascinating story, and I agree that although some people may not have actually lost both parents, the circumstances that they are thrown into are actually much the same as if they were.

  2. Court records from the 19th century and earlier used the term "orphan" for child that had lost one or both parents, so your usage here is appropriate and has a historic precedent.

  3. Fascinating account of both Medina's life and losses as well as the success story of Jennie who married happily at the age of 15.

  4. Your story has all the prerequisites for a good novel -- one to read while curled up on the couch with a hot cup of cocoa and flow into these lives.

  5. Many thanks for the kind compliments. When I first began this post, I wasn't sure it was appropriate for the orphan topic, but the more I kept going the more I realized that Jennie wasn't the only orphan here.

    And thank you Miriam for sharing that info. I have always heard the term orphan used when both parents have died.