A week or so ago, I discovered the names of my great-great grandfather‘s parents. According to a marriage record transcribed by a volunteer, James Conner married Nancy Reed in Delaware County, Ohio in 1841. Therefore, I thought the census man in 1900 Iowa had written down the wrong name. Instead of James, somehow he had mistakenly written John Sr. I was convinced his dad’s name was James. And then I found more corroborating details on Find A Grave. Someone named Jean Greene had submitted information on my great-great grandpa’s sister Caroline Conner’s, sometimes spelled Carolyn and Connor, entry. According to Jean, Caroline’s parents were named Jno Conner, born in Virginia, and Nancy Reed, born in Ohio.
The father of my great-great grandfather, John ‘Pap’ Conner, was born in May of 1819 in Virginia, probably in Augusta County. That’s according to multiple sources, including the 1900 census, on which the census man had mistakenly recorded John’s father name as John Senior. For years I thought his name was John Conner, Sr. But it was a mistake. Whether the census man had poor hearing or Grandpa Conner had dementia, we will probably never know the circumstances behind the story.
For years I’d been wondering why I could never find any trace of the family. I was looking for a patriarch with the wrong name. I developed all sorts of theories. Was it because they were hillbillies who shunned society, including the census man? Did they harass him? Did they scare him away, perhaps taking a shot or two at him, refusing to cooperate with the federal census? Or was it because they were a bunch of illiterates?
Well, none of these theories proved correct. They may have been illiterate hicks, but there was no avoiding the census man. They were there all along, recorded with just about everyone else.
I include these details not to denigrate the Conner clan, but to record what their lives were like. Not being able to read and write I’m sure was a huge burden.
The clue that broke through the brick wall was finding information from Pap Conner’s death certificate, which I was about to order from the vital records folks in Iowa, and which I may do anyway to confirm what I’ve learned. Someone had transcribed details from Polk County death certificates, including maiden names of the mother’s of the deceased. And, lucky for me, this included John Conner’s mother. Her maiden name was Reed.
A cursory search of Ancestry and other genealogical databases brought up only one couple with the names Conner and Reed, and they fit perfectly into the time frame. And they had a son named John who was born in Ohio in 1846. A perfect fit, besides of course, the name confusion from the 1900 census.
This was enough to convince me that James Conner and Nancy Reed were John ‘Pap’ Conner’s ma and pa. A few days after this terrific discovery I tried tracking them through the census. It took a little effort because they seemed to always be on the move.
In 1850, James and the family were living in Trenton Township, Delaware County, Ohio. This is probably where John was born in August of 1846. A decade later, in 1860, they had moved further west to La Harpe Township, Hancock County, Illinois. They continued pushing west. In 1870, the family was recorded living in Jackson Township, Andrew County, Missouri. Ten years later, in 1880, the Conners were still in Missouri, in Polk Township, Nodaway County, minus son John, who was living in Iowa.
By 1900, John Conner had been in Iowa for at least 25 years. He had married Ellen Lint there in 1875. James was still alive, living with John and his family on a farm in Washington Township, Polk County, Iowa. Of course, the census man recorded his name as John Senior, resulting in years of futile searching on my part. Now, however, the puzzle has been solved.
I’ve been looking for the parents of my great-great grandfather John ‘Pap’ Conner for years. The 1900 census records his father as John Sr., but I haven’t been able to confirm this. I’m beginning to think the census man got it wrong.
There’s a James Conner who married a Nancy Reed who lived in Delaware County, Ohio and who had a son named John who was born in 1846. This may be the family. I will have to dig around some more when I have a day off.
I’ve looked through the sources for this, but can’t find anything to back it up. Whether or not, John was born in Summit County I don’t know. I have found any evidence either way. I’m recording it here, so I have some sort of log of it.
What makes me a bit cautious is the name of his wife. The person has it as Mary Ellen Catherine Lint. I have never seen Ellen C. Lint referred to as Mary Ellen. Perhaps two people are being confusingly merged together into one. I’ve seen it happen before.
For example, Martha Ann Marsh, who married Henry N. Hill, and Martha Ann Hill are two distinct individuals, but sometimes get confused.
Ellen’s birth date is recorded as August 6, 1848 in Story County, Iowa. In fact, she was born in Pennsylvania on August 20, 1850. This is well documented. I’m not sure why there are so many errors on this particular family tree.
But I will be following up on the reference to Summit County to see if I can find any documentation linking the family there. Summit County is centered around Akron.
One of the best ways for finding out more information on a person — the names of parents, birthplaces, etc. — is to send away for a copy of the death certificate. I try not to do it too often, since it can cost a bit of money, but every once in awhile a branch on the family tree requires it.
Such is the case with my great-great grandfather, John Conner. I know the name of his father, also John, because he is living with the family in 1900 and is recorded on the federal census. However, trying to find where the family lived in Virginia and later Ohio is proving too elusive through other channels of research.
So I am forced to order a death certificate for John the Younger. Since I don’t know where John Senior died, I don’t want to risk sending money for nothing. I need more details on what happened to him. I’m assuming he died in Iowa, like his son, but who knows. Maybe he ended up living his last days elsewhere with another daughter or son.
But there’s no way around it at the moment, so I will have to find a notary, hopefully one willing to do it pro bono, and then send off a check or money order for $20. I haven’t written a check in ages.
Trying to track down this family — the Conners — has been driving me nuts — for years. But I am a determined fella. It’s only a matter of time.
Ah, the crazy Conners. Even today, you can hear stories passed down from older generations about how backwards and hillbilly they were, which may help explain why it’s difficult tracing their footsteps. They may not have been very welcoming to strangers, including census workers.
Above is John Conner on the 1915 census for the state of Iowa. He was born in 1846, somewhere in Ohio, to a father with the same name, who, according to the 1900 census, was born in May of 1819, either in Ohio or Virginia, and who died sometime after that census and probably before the next one in 1910. I can’t find him after that one.
Note the name of the person who completed the form, a W. E. or N. E. Hill, most likely a relative.
She was active in getting ordinances enacted that prevented builders from building and selling homes with only dirt floors.
The woman, Virginia Lee Foster Johnston, was born in 1923 and lived in Indianola. She helped organize public water districts in Des Moines, too.
It is hard to believe that dirt floors were a problem in the 20th century, although based on family stories I know this was common.
My grandfather, Ray Hill, and his siblings lived in a house like this near Peru, Iowa, though I think they had a floor. During a trip to Iowa in the late 1990s my great aunt, Grace Weeks, took a group of us out to visit the old homestead. The house was no longer there.
The property is a wildlife preserve now, I think. I have tried finding it again using maps and satellite photos, but haven’t had much success.
Grace told of how rattlesnakes were everywhere. Once she overturned a mattress and was surprised by a bunch of snakes.
Being my curious self, I ventured out onto the land, all the while being admonished, by Grace, my aunt Carol and my parents.
“Be careful where you step.”
Grace in particular didn’t seem to want me going out there.
I was wearing shorts, so my legs were exposed and prime targets for any rattled snakes, but I didn’t see or hear any.
My father grew up in a house with no insulation, just scraps of wood for walls and siding. This was in South Dakota, and it got mighty cold during the winter.
The Conner clan was probably quite used to such rough conditions. Family tales have been passed down of them being quite the hillbillies, hunting raccoon and squirrels, and generally behaving badly.
Some of my ancestors lived in the northwesternmost part of Jasper County, Iowa. It’s known officially as Clear Creek Township. Years ago I discovered these maps at the Iowa GenWeb project pages for Jasper County. Whoever has been working on that site and these maps is doing a great job.
Rarely does one find such wonderfully simple, yet informative modern township maps. All of my family connections trace to Clear Creek Township. I don’t think relatives ventured anywhere else within Jasper County. The same families did, however, have connections with townships in neighboring counties: Washington Township in Polk County and Indian Creek Township in Story County.
Many of my forebears, including my grandfather, are buried in the Graham Cemetery just northwest of the town of Mingo. On some family census records, Clyde1 is listed as the post office where folks would go to pick up and send mail. It’s nice to see these locations pinpointed precisely on the township map.
The obituary of my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Lint, was posted online by Gail and Dennis Bell back in 2005. I reposted it on a few mailing lists so it wouldn’t get lost. I somehow overlooked putting it here until now.
THE MAXWELL TRIBUNE, Maxwell, Iowa, Thursday, February 18, 1937, page 1, column 1. “OBITUARY – Ellen Catherine Lint, youngest daughter of Conrad and Catherine Lint, was born Aug. 20, 1850, in Berlin, Pa., and passed away Feb. 12, 1937, at her home, near Maxwell, Ia. She came to Iowa with her parents in 1859 and located near Mingo, Ia. With the exception of four years which were spent in Kansas, she spent the remainder of her life here in Iowa. She was united in marriage to John Conner Dec. 30, 1875. To this union seven children were born. Mrs. Theo Flitcraft, Mrs. Chas. Hill, Miss Irma Conner, Clinton, Asa and T. L. Conner. One daughter, Mrs. A. O. Mendenhall, preceded her in death Aug. 31, 1935. Her husband preceded her is death Dec. 28, 1918. She is also survived by one sister, Mrs. Mary Jane Hefner, eighteen grandchildren and ten great grandchildren. She united with the Brethren church 15 years ago and remained faithful till death. She was greatly beloved and highly respected by all who knew her. She loved her home, children and friends who mourn her passing. Services were conducted Sunday at 2:30, at the home, by Rev. T. U. Reed, of Adel, Ia. The beautiful hymns, “Sweet Bye and Bye,”” “Going Down the Valley” and “Beautiful Valley of Eden” were rendered by Mrs. T. U. Reed and Mrs. Ray Gooden. The pallbearers were grandsons, Robt. And Cecil Mendenhall, Ralph and John Conner, Clark and Chas. Hill. Those attending the funeral from a distance were: Cecil and Corinne Mendenhall, Mr. and Mrs. Robt. Mendenhall, Virginia Mason, Hampton; Mrs. V. E. Mason, Dougherty; Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Kopf, Ames; Mrs. Lena Eschelman, Mrs. Etta Kinney, Des Moines; Mr. and Mrs. Roy Hipsley, Newton; Mr. and Mrs. Guy Mendenhall, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Mendenhall, Miss Lettie Rieck, Clarence and Kenneth Rieck, Bondurant; Mr. and Mrs. Howard Wade, Zearing; Mrs. Sherman Ulum, Colo; Mr. and Mrs. Vern Bonney, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Weeks, New Virginia; Mrs. Chas. Hill, Chas. John and Wendell Hill, Indianola; John Conner, Longmont, Colo.; C. O. Conner, Grand Junction, Colo.; Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Fawcett, Nevada. Card of Thanks – We wish to thank the friends and neighbors who so kindly assisted us during the illness and death of our dear mother. Also for the beautiful flowers. The Conner Children.”
1. I’ve found some very useful information online through the years only to have the address change or have the material disappear completely. So now my policy is to copy whatever I can to mailing lists and this blog. Where it goes, sometimes both places, depends on its importance.