Category Archives: Virginia

The Conners — Always On The Move

John W. Conner, uncle and namesake of my great-great grandfather, John W. ‘Pap’ Conner, poses with his wife Catherine Sheets and their dog.
John W. Conner, uncle and namesake of my great-great grandfather, John W. ‘Pap’ Conner, poses with his wife Catherine Sheets and the family dog.

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.


Last Resorts

An obituary notice for my great grandmother, Augusta Lentz Fromke, who was born and confirmed in Germany. It gives quite a lot of detail that I hadn’t learned elsewhere.

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.

The process in Iowa for ordering a death certificate is a bit strange, in my opinion. Requests must be notarized. Very odd, indeed, for a descendant researching the family tree. A bit excessive. If Grandpa Fromke was still among us, I’m sure he’d be willing to do it for me.

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.


The Virginian from Oregon

James Drury in an episode of The Virginian
James Drury in an episode of The Virginian

Years ago, I would catch a glimpse of The Virginian, that old classic TV show. I am sure I watched an episode or two, though it never captured my attention like Bonanza or Wild Wild West.

I was pleasantly surprised to read about the major star of the series, James Drury, now 80, in my hometown paper. It was based on a previous feature published in a different, competing newspaper.

He grew up in the same city where I did: Salem, Oregon.

The family’s ties to Oregon go back a ways.

Drury’s nephew still owns the 100-acre ranch just south of Salem where James spent some of his youth.

His mother, maiden name Crawford, was born on her father’s vegetable farm on Browns Island in 1895. My friend Carl lived in an old farmhouse out there for awhile. I love that area. Most of it is now a large park and wildlife refuge. There are quite a few deer there.

“I patterned my Virginian character after my maternal grandfather, John Hezekiah Crawford, an Oregon dirt farmer and rancher who raised cattle. He came out to Oregon with a wagon train in 1880 or 1875,” Drury explained.

“He had a big team of Belgian draft horses. He put me on one and I stayed up there all day. I’ve been crazy about horses ever since.”

He also spent time in beautiful Newport, on the Oregon coast. The Drurys bought a beach house at Agate Beach before he was born. Then, they bought a blueberry farm near Newport’s south jetty.

Drury lives in Houston, Texas now.

I should probably revisit that show, see what I missed.


The Executioner

Maximilien Robespierre, one of the people responsible for creating the Committee of Public Safety and who succumbed to its power by being executed in 1794

A man who served as the executioner of 62 individuals has changed his mind. He now thinks the death penalty is wrong. Jerry Givens was Virginia’s chief executioner for 17 years.

“From the 62 lives I took, I learned a lot,” Givens said.

I have always had a problem with the state, formally and officially, killing people. Of course, there are many who deserve it. Killers, rapists, psychopaths.

My hangup is the government, acting on my behalf, on our behalf. It brings to mind the arguments of the founders and mob rule, what so many innocents witnessed during the days of the French Revolution and the Committee of Public Safety.1 Then, there’s also the example of the Nazis, who made death by the state a national pastime.

Stalin. Hitler. Pol Pot. So many people murdered by the evil men who took power and governed ruthlessly. I don’t want to see this ever happen in America.


1. Note how many government entities, on all levels, use the phrase public safety.  Some even use “Committee for Public Safety,” apparently oblivious to the negative historical context.

A ‘Swath of Gray Cloth with Shiny Brass Buttons’

. . . there was something different about that swath of gray cloth with shiny brass buttons.”

A woman walking on the Jersey Shore after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy “stumbled across an 80-year-old tunic owned by a 1933 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a World War II hero described in his West Point yearbook as a soldier with a ‘heart like a stormy sea.’”

The mystery doesn’t end there, however.

The jacket’s journey is as mysterious as its history. No one knows how it ended up on the Jersey Shore, hundreds of miles north of the late warrior Chester B. deGavre’s home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. His 98-year-old widow, Tita deGavre, didn’t even know it existed.”


A Turk, Goliath & Modern Medicine

The story of a man getting treatment at the University of Virginia reminded me of Goliath of Gath and other giants mentioned in the Bible. Of course, skeptics question the accounts.

“How could this be? How could so and so be true?”

Yet, it’s quite clear there is a scientific basis for even the most incredible legends.

Reading about the pituitary gland and gigantism is just fascinating. According to the doctors, most cases are caused by tumors. The condition is known as acromegaly.

What mankind doesn’t know is extensive. What we don’t understand even more so. For example, a new type of human DNA has just been discovered, after all these years of intensive research.

We are only at the beginning of the scientific revolution and human understanding.


Washington, DC

I am continuing to unravel the story of the George family, ancestors on my mother’s side. My great-great grandfather Wesley Calvin George had an older sister named Elizabeth. She was born in 1838 or 1839 in Virginia, possibly in Middlesex County.

Elizabeth appears to have lived the latter part of her life in the nation’s capital — Washington, DC. In 1856 Elizabeth married a man named William Mooney, whose mother Margaret was born in Ireland.

I haven’t located any records for William and Elizabeth in 1860. However, William’s mother Margaret Mooney was living in Ward 10 of Baltimore in 1860, so they were probably still living there.

By 1863 they appear to have relocated to Washington, DC. That year William Mooney registered for the draft. He was living in the District of Columbia, in the 1st Congressional District. He was 36.

In 1870 William and the family, including four children and his 71-year-old mother, were in Ward 5 of Washington, District of Columbia. The children were named William, Marcus, Kate and Augusta.1

By 1880, William had died. Elizabeth was a widow at the age of 42. Everything, all of the details on Elizabeth and William, matches up with the information on the 1850 census, when she is listed living with her mother, also named Elizabeth, and her younger brother Wesley. Elizabeth was born around 1838 in Virginia. Both of her parents were born in Virginia as well.

I am hoping Elizabeth’s death certificate will name her parents. And hopefully the record will jive with Wesley’s and perhaps provide a few more clues on the origins of the family.


1. In 1880 Marcus went by the name George and relegated his birth name to be his middle initial, M. There is no middle initial given for William. Kate has an M. while Augusta has a V.

Middlesex County, Virginia

Chris Smithson has been helpful once again. He found a marriage announcement for Elizabeth George in The Baltimore Sun.

It mentions her as being from Middlesex County, Virginia. She married William Mooney on June 11, 1856 in Baltimore. The announcement was published in the July 8, 1856 edition of the paper.

This Elizabeth — Elizabeth George Mooney — is likely the daughter of Elizabeth George, sister of Wesley, who was living with her mother and brother in 1850. According to the 1850 census for Baltimore, Elizabeth was 11 years old at the time. Therefore, she was born in 1838 or 1839.

Middlesex County, Virginia is across the water from Lancaster County, Virginia where the elder Elizabeth was born in about 1806.

Two researchers of the George surname — Gaybrooke Crittenden and Karen Wallace — are listed on the “Middlesex County Surnames Register” but neither of the email addresses provided work. Hopefully I will be able to track them down (and other researchers) to help fill out the family tree.


Lancaster County, Virginia

Elizabeth George's Death Certificate

Yesterday Christopher, the man who I mentioned before, sent me some more files on the George family. What a terrific guy.

One document was Elizabeth George’s death certificate. Another was a marriage announcement for Judith A. George and Elijah Bonner from The Baltimore Sun. Both name Lancaster County, Virginia as their birth place.

I have been looking for this connection for years. Years ago I discovered a Warren W. C. George, and immediately wondered about a connection to my ancestor Wesley Calvin George, who often merely used his initials, W. C.

Warren W. C. George, too, was from Lancaster County, Virginia. The specific details and family tree remain elusive, but I am hoping someone can help me sort it out.

So Wesley Calvin George was likely born in Lancaster County or nearby to Elizabeth and Jacob George, though I still haven’t found any records. At least now we know the place to look.


Jacob George and Elizabeth McCoy?

Well, I may have finally discovered where the George family lived in Virginia before Wesley and his mother Elizabeth moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where they were living in 1850. The place was Greenbrier County, Virginia. Today the county name is the same, but it is within West Virginia.

I found a marriage record matching the names that were written on Wesley’s death certificate: Jacob and Elizabeth George. The information is among the family trees section of


Elizabet George


George Jacob


Mccoy Thomas Catharine

Birth Place:

Greenbriar Co, VA

Birth Date:


Marriage Date:

17 Apr 1823

The source is noted as the Family Data Collection – Individual Records. It was compiled by a man named Edmund West.

Wesley left Baltimore, probably sometime before 1860, ending up in Missouri and Kansas, where he married, and then South Dakota, where he’s buried.