Oral Traditions and Family Lore

Who Knew?  It Turns Out Grandma Did!

Recently I became aware of a familial connection to a Mayflower Pilgrim.  Apparently Great (times 10) Grandpa, George Soule, way back in the line was an indentured servant on the ship when it made that legendary landing at Plymouth Rock.

It seems ironic to me that I grew up in a family that celebrated those adventurous pilgrims each year with elaborate dinners and big family gatherings yet most of us, myself included, were unaware of how close to home that celebration truly was.  Never once, not a single solitary time, was it ever mentioned to me growing up that we were Mayflower descendants.  It seems this interesting tidbit of family lore was deemed unimportant somewhere along the way and no one talked about it until the information was in danger of being lost.

The Value of Asking Questions and Sharing Stories

When asked about it, my Grandmother, the Mayflower descendant, admitted that she had heard of the information growing up.  It was no big surprise to her.  She was aware of the information all along.  Here she was in her late eighties sitting on this interesting piece of family lore.

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This instance makes it painfully obvious how important it is for each generation to make an effort to preserve and share the information on our heritage for future generations.  We need to lay stones in our wake for our own descendants to eventually trace and follow.  We need to tell the stories and share the knowledge so that it’s not lost.

Researching into the ancestors in this forgotten family line has led to many discoveries and connections.  I have found connections to Lizzie Borden, and Abraham Lincoln.  I located ancestors who founded towns, served in government, and built buildings that still stand hundreds of years later.  One line turned up the lost heirs to an English estate.  All these discoveries were a breath away from being lost and had already been basically forgotten in my family line.

Grandma Buried Her Skeletons

Occasionally brick walls are built by our ancestors on purpose, that was the case with one of my paternal Great Grandmothers.  She lived until I reached adulthood and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time asking about her past.  To say she was not forthcoming is to make an understatement.  Her opinion was if everyone knew all the things she had done in her past no one would like her.  I would pry; she would hesitantly provide little details, but it was like pulling teeth.  It took me years to crack some of the brick walls in her family.

My Great Grandmother had escaped an abusive husband early in life.  According to her she smacked him in the head with a skillet, snatched up the baby, and didn’t quit running till she hit Iowa…from Arkansas.  She remarried, her husband adopted her only child, and her ex husband never gave her any problems after that but I’m sure she had a rough time surviving during those years as a single mother.  I have to assume because she was unwilling to discuss it.  I have heard family rumors she resorted to prostitution, there are whispers of running alcohol during the prohibition years, but she was unwilling to tell so large periods of her life will likely forever remain a mystery.  Whatever dark secrets she had Grandma took to the grave with her.

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Matriarch Monday

If fathers are the foundation on which a family is built then it’s the mothers that are the backbone which keep it standing.  History is full of strong matriarchs who kept the home fires burning through adversity and hardships.  Though they are frequently lost to history, matriarchs play a huge part in any families’ heritage.

Virginia Osborn, also known as Jennie, or Mother Brown late in life, was likely born on Oct 15, 1839 in what was at the time Greenbrier County, Virginia[1]

Jennie Osborne Brown

Jennie Osborn is pictured here, sitting in the middle wearing black, surrounded by some of her female descendants

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Jennie grew up in a time of turmoil for the young American county, and Greenbrier County sits on the dividing line between southern sympathizers who felt compassion for the southern cause and northern unionist who felt loyalty to the fledgling country.

The year of 1860 found young Jennie married to a man by the name of David Fox[2]  but the union was not one fated to stand the test of time

War broke out in the United States in 1861.  Virginia was a state of divided loyalties which led to the formation of West Virginia in 1863.  Greenbrier became part of the new state but many of its native sons felt the call to join their southern brothers and quickly joined the Confederate forces.

David Fox marched off to war[3], leaving a young bride and child behind.  David Fox was ultimately taken prisoner and held at Johnson’s Island before being returned to the south in a prisoner exchange.  After being returned to the south he was sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi where he died on Dec. 31, 1862[4].

Jennie Osborn Fox was left a widow with a young child to care for in an area that was still in the midst of a bloody civil war.  Jennie did what many women of her day did under her circumstances, she remarried.  As luck would have it Tinsley Brown was a neighbor man nearly twice her age that had also recently lost his spouse and was trying to raise kids on his own.  Tinsley Brown and Jennie Fox married on Mar 3, 1864.[5]

Life would once again throw a curve ball at Jennie only 18 year later when once again she was left a widow when Tinsley died on May 26, 1882.[6]  The couple had 9 children in their blended family; the youngest was only 2 when his father died.

Jennie was 42 the second time she found herself a widow.  Tinsley left her with a farm and she continued to live on and work the land he left her as she raised her family.  She never remarried and continued farming while raising her children, and later several grandchildren until she was in her nineties.

According to Jennie’s obituary she was 105 when she died on Jan 31, 1937.[7]  Historic documents place her age more accurately at 97 at the time of her death.

obit for jennie brown

During her life Jennie had a lot of amazing and adverse times.

  • She buried 2 husbands (Confederate Widow)
  • She buried 3 children (mother to 9 all who survived to adulthood)
  • Lived in the middle of a war torn region (Lived during the Civil War and WWI)
  • Witnessed the rise and fall of the Confederacy
  • Celebrated the creation of a new state
  • Experienced the marvel of the creation of things such as the automobile and electricity
  • Lived through southern reconstruction and the great depression

Virginia Jane “Jennie” Osborn Fox Brown was my Great-great-great grandmother.

[1] (Ancestry.com, US Federal Census Year: 1850; Census Place: District 18, Greenbrier, Virginia; Roll: M432_947; Page: 311B; Image: 309 , 2009)

[2] (Ancestry.com, West Virginia, Marriages Index, 1785-1971, 2011)

[3] (Ancestry.com, U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865, 2011)

[4] (Findagrave.com, 2006 http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=13180392&ref=acom)

[5] (Ancestry.com, Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp. Virginia Marriages, 1851-1929 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000. )

[6] (Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:”West Virginia Deaths, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. From originals housed in county courthouses throughout West Virginia. “Death Records.”2011)

[7] (Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:”West Virginia Deaths, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. From originals housed in county courthouses throughout West Virginia. “Death Records.”2011)