Thursday, April 21, 2011

My great great grandmother Edna Helen was born in 1851 in Steuben County, New York. Her parents, Ebenezer and Harriet were relatively poor farmers there, living amid Harriet's relatives. Edna had six older siblings- Eliphalet, Phebe Ann, Susanah, William, Jonathan, and Emmet.

The family moved to Lenawee County, Michigan, perhaps hoping to improve their lives, sometime between 1857 and 1859. They took the Erie Canal west, probably sitting in their one or two wagons loaded with household possessions.

The family continued to farm. To the south, the Civil War raged. In 1863, Edna's brother William died at age 19 (no one knows why). Edna's father had enlisted in the army the previous month, and the day after his son's death he was mustered into the military. It appears Ebenezer was having a mid-life crisis (He was 49, but claimed to be 35 on his enlistment papers). Edna's mother was left with a large family to support since Ebenezer was not sending his pay home, apparently he was using it to buy food for his fellow soldiers (he was working as a cook). Times were difficult, the three oldest children had married and left the family and there were now three more sons, Edwin, Wilson, and Benjamin Franklin. Harriet had to grow flax, go through the process of creating linen thread from the plant, and weave coverlets in an attempt to make money. My mother still has a piece from one of the coverlets.

Ebenezer came back from the war a broken man in 1865, reportedly often in bed sick. The following spring the family loaded up a Conestoga wagon and traveled north to Grand Traverse County, settling in a small log cabin on the shores of Long Lake.

Edna was a teenager. She met a young, handsome man named Elijah (nicknamed Lije). They became engaged and Edna traveled to Traverse City, where she picked out a hat at Ada Sprague's millinery shop. On a snowy day in November 1869, the family headed to the school house, which also served as a meeting place and a church, and Edna had to wait during a snowstorm for Lije to arrive.

The couple moved to nearby Almira, where Lije operated a mill on a small creek. Edna started having children, Francis in 1871, John in 1875, Emma in 1877, and Ebenezer in 1879. Sometime in the 1870s, Edna and Lije posed for a tintype picture (my grandmother had this on her bedroom dresser).

Seated, Edna and Lije. The identities of the other people are uncertain, the man may be Edna's brother Jonathan and one of the two women is probably his second wife Cora.

In 1880, Lije was still operated a lumber mill and was farming on the side. This decade saw Edna give birth to Leland (1881), Colonel (1886), and Harrison McKinley (in 1888). The family waited until after the presidential election was decided in 1888 before naming Harrison, who was born in late June (if McKinley had won, that would have been his first name).

The family lined up in front of their house in 1885.

Four more children were born in the 1890s- Ada Kate (1890), Perry (1892), Charles (1894), and Althea (1897). The first three were named for prominent Traverse City residents. The family moved to Grand Rapids for a year, before moving back to Traverse City, where Lije ran a produce store and operated a dairy farm. In 1898, the youngest daughter Althea died from croup. Weeks after her death, her little shoes were found in the fireplace ashes, placed there apparently by the child.

Circa 1902-1905.

A final child was born in August 1900. It died unnamed in December 1900, perhaps because the child was born with Down's Syndrome or some other condition.

It seems strange that I know so little about Edna. My grandmother claimed she was a clothes horse, always liked having nice outfits. The photographs suggest this may have been the case, her clothing styles change through time, reflecting an awareness of what was currently in fashion. She was apparently a skilled homemaker, and the family had enough money to a afford a servant girl in 1900.

Edna in the late 1890s to early 1900s.

Ten of her 12 children lived to adulthood, in a time with high child mortality, that was pretty remarkable. Her husband was quite successful financially, and it seems the children were mostly spoiled. Many of them, including my great grandfather Colonel, were not well-behaved as adults.

Lije and Edna, 1910s.

Elijah died from a stroke in 1921 and the family farm went to oldest son Francis. He was not particularly kind to his mother, refusing to allow her to keep her flock of pet chickens.

Edna and a unidentified man in the 1920s.

By 1930, she was living with her daughter Ada and Ada's husband in Traverse City. She died in February 1931 and her obituary stated:

"The life of Mrs. Ransom was an outstanding example of purposeful living and her death brings sorrow to a community in which she so long endeavorer to be of service to others. She was a devoted wife and mother and through her charitableness and kindliness, endear herself to innumerable friends."

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