Category Archives: BOAL

Five Sisters


Yesterday I came across three documents¹ related to the premature death of my great-great-great grandfather John Shannon Boal. He must have known death was coming for him, because two weeks prior, on May 31ˢᵗ, 1878, he wrote up a will.

Little is known today about this branch of the family, primarily because of the untimely deaths, I think. The chain of traditions and stories being passed down from generation to generation was continually broken, which reminds me of a quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a favorite of mine which I feature separately on my blog’s main page.

My great-great grandmother, Nettie Ann Boal Darling, eldest daughter of John S. Boal

“And some things
that should not have been
forgotten were lost.
History became legend.
Legend became myth.”

John’s eldest daughter, my great-great grandmother Nettie Boal, died young too, at the age of 26. His wife, her mother, died just shy of her 30th birthday. And the history, the tales, the anecdotes, went with them, sadly. I’ve been slowly, methodically gathering up what details I can.

Somehow the fact that Nettie had siblings, all sisters, had escaped the family tree that I had compiled from previous generations. I’d been working on it diligently for years, but somehow neglected this side until this year, when I discovered one sister and then another. And, now, thanks to the will, we have yet another.


Edna Boal had slipped through, unknown to us and perhaps even my great grandmother, Nettie’s daughter Geneva, who shared a middle name with her Aunt Stella. Three other sisters had passed unnoticed, too, for years: Estella, Blanche, and Jennie. Somehow they had been forgotten.

Nettie’s daughter Geneva Estella Darling Hay, my great grandmother & granddaughter of John Boal

After I asked Grandma about Nettie’s sisters, she did recount what she knew. My grandmother remembers her mother telling her about visiting Aunt Blanche in California, when she took a trip west to see her younger brother Walter. But that’s about all we know. That’s it.

John apparently served during the Civil War. But I’ve been unable to find any record that he did.

It’s sad. These people, relatives, and their stories have been lost. One of my goals is to get back as much as we can, to restore their lives in our memories.


  1. I will be writing about the other two documents, probate records involving the administration of John Boal’s estate and the care of the five children, and uploading them later.

The Draft of 1863


Finally some evidence of John Boal, my great-great-great grandfather, during the Civil War. His name is on a list of Class I men ready to be drafted. It was compiled by a Capt. James Matthews, Provost Marshal, in June and July of 1863.

Name: John Boal
Birth Year: abt 1840
Place of Birth: Pennsylvania
Age on 1 July 1863: 23
Race: White
Marital Status: Unmarried (Single)
Residence: Big Grove, Johnson, Iowa
Congressional District: 4th
Class: 1

His age is off, perhaps “underreported” to the authorities. He was born in 1836, so he was probably actually 27, not 23. Perhaps he thought he might be left behind if he was considered too old.

The major giveaway that it’s him is Big Grove Township and Johnson County. This is where he later married and near where his father William is buried, in the Oakland Cemetery near Solon.

Now I just have to track down his unit (or units). He probably served in a unit from Pennsylvania.


The Harrisons

Finally I’ve come to understand who had taken in my great-great grandmother and her sister Stella after their parents had died young. It was their aunt, sister of their father, and her husband, James W. Harrison.

Sarah Jane Boal, daughter of William Boal and Anna Marie Shannon, had married Mr. Harrison in 1866. Her brother John Shannon Boal had married Ann Almeda Foster two years earlier. They had four daughters: Nettie, Jennie, Stella and Blanche. John’s wife died in 1874. He died four years later, in 1878.

So the kids were split up. Jennie and Blanche went to stay with the maternal grandparents, the Fosters, while Nettie and Stella went to live with their aunt Sarah Jane and her family.

For years I’d been wondering how the heck these Harrisons fit into the picture, and now I know.


And Yet Another?

Earlier today I came upon what looked like yet another sister of my great-great grandmother. While following up on Wednesday’s revelation that a sister named Dora Blanche lived in California, I discovered a woman named Clara Ellen Seay, maiden name Boal.

She was born on November 7, 1870 in Iowa and died in 1951 in Los Angeles. Her mother’s maiden name was Foster while her father’s surname was Boal. That would make for five sisters: Clara, Dora or Blanche, Jennie, Stella and Nettie, my great-great grandmother.

Yet, in digging a bit deeper I’ve found that Clara’s parents are not the same as the other four. Clara’s father was Robert Boal, a stone mason, and her mother was Lydia Ann Foster.


The Lost Sister

There’s another sister?! There’s another sister!

While poking around the online family tree I’ve been updating regularly on FamilySearch I clicked on one of the automatically generated clues and boy wasn’t I surprised.

A woman named Dora Blanche Boal married a man named Fleming in 1895 in Washington County, Iowa. And her parents were named Boal and Foster!

She’s another sister of my great-great grandmother, Nettie Ann Bowl. So that’s now four sisters: Nettie, Jennie, Stella & Dora Blanche. Apparently she later went by the name Blanche rather than Dora.

How I missed her I don’t know. I’m gonna have to track down who took care of her after their parents died so tragically young.


1865 — A.D.


Even while serving during the Civil War, taxes still had to be paid.

This is the 1865 tax assessment of the grandfather, A. D. Foster, of my great-great grandmother, Nettie Ann Boal. His full name is Azariah Doane Foster. He served in Company C of the 63rd Ohio Infantry Regiment. When my great-great grandmother’s parents died, Azariah and his wife took on the task of raising the granddaughters: Jennie, Stella and Nettie. Decades later Stella still used the name Foster as the name of her parents, despite the fact that her birth name was Boal.

A distant cousin has written a book on Azariah’s grandfather, Ichabod. When I get a chance I will be reading it.


250 Years Ago Today — March 17, 1764

Londonderry, Ulster/Northern Ireland
On St. Patrick’s Day in 1764, somewhere in Ireland, a little baby boy was born. He was christened James. Born to a man named Boal and a mother whose name is lost.

It was a Saturday. An ocean away, in British North America, New York City had just begun the tradition of celebrating the day, the first five years without a parade.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, life went on for James. He became a linen and carpet weaver, trades probably learned from his father. James wed in 1787.

James left for America in 1790 with his wife Elizabeth and two children, Margaret and George. They left from Londonderry in the North.

ireland_mapBeing poor, “the trip was made by the cheapest passage.”

It was not a pleasant journey.

“The voyage of three months was a stormy one, during which the ship sprang a leak, and much of the cargo, including some of the goods belonging to the Boal family, was thrown overboard.”

They were devout Presbyterians.

At least one grandson of James, John Shannon Boal, fought in the Civil War.

I doubt James could fathom the chain of events he had instigated with his decision to leave Ireland. How could he foresee that a descendant would write about him on the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth and that the day, a truly Irish one, would be so widely celebrated?


Snow in May?!?

Papers on May Snow

It may be spring, but winter weather has hit parts of the country, including Iowa. The Des Moines Register provided a bit of historical background on snow in the month of May.

Snow in May?!?

Unfortunately, yes.

I just checked the weather conditions in Colo, Iowa, where I lived as a youngster. It is 34° and feels like 22°, with a light snow falling. Oddly, it is warmer in South Dakota.

Thankfully I live in the great Pacific Northwest, where spring has been sprung for weeks.

Where the air isn’t as mild, the weather is much harsher and less predictable, which must have been hard on previous generations, particularly farmers.

In 1882, a ‘double’ snow hit Iowa City. I had many relatives living near there at the time. There was about an inch of snow on May 12, with snowfall across parts of southeastern Iowa.

On May 23, the town of Washington, even closer to where some ancestors lived, reported four to six inches of snow. Des Moines had about half an inch. Parts of the the southeastern quarter of the state also received snow.

Most of my ancestors were farmers, so the snow must have been discouraging.

In 1907, the eruption of a volcano in Russia was at least partially to blame for a cold spring. Snow fell across all of the Midwest on May 3, with amounts ranging up to 1.2 inches at Des Moines. On May 15, light snow fell across much of the state.

In 1947, on the late date of May 28, there was snow across the north and west and light snow over most of the state. This is the latest spring snowfall on record in Iowa. One town had ten inches.