52 Ancestors Week 30 – R. T. Pyles, Businessman and Community Leader

Richard Thomas PYLES was my 2nd great grand uncle. He was the brother of my 2nd great grandfather, Wallace PYLES, who I wrote about here.

Richard was the eldest child of John PYLES (1802-1870) and Rebecca Poole JONES PYLES (1800-1890). He was born 16 Jan 1832 in Poolesville, Maryland, which is in Montgomery County.Maryland sign

A farmer, then not

Richard started his adult life as a farmer like his father, but in 1860 he was a dry goods merchant in Barnesville, Maryland, also in Montgomery County. His real estate and personal property holdings were valued at $2100.

In Feb 1859, Richard had married Laura Virginia HAWKINS. They had two children together – Clagett born in 1859 and Annie Estelle (Nannie) born in 1861. Laura died in 1865 for reasons I don’t know. Two years later, Richard married Laura’s younger sister, Frances Ellen (Fannie) HAWKINS.fabric2_mf

In the 1870 census, Richard was still a merchant in Barnesville and the value of his real and personal property was $7000. He was 38 years old in 1870.

During the 1870’s Richard was a warden of the St. Peter’s Parish Church. The original church edifice stood on what is now Monocacy Cemetery in Montgomery County. He was also a freemason, belonging to a lodge in Rockville, Maryland.Masonic symbol

Living the good life

Life and business was good for Richard and his family during the 1870’s. Besides being a merchant, Richard worked as a district tax collector and as a postmaster. The post office was probably in his store. Nevertheless, he was the postmaster and was well paid by the government for that position.post-office-mail-box-antique-2

Richard and Fannie had four children in the 1870’s, and on the 1880 census the family has a children’s nurse living with them. Sounds like a nanny or mother’s helper to me, a luxury not everyone could afford then or now. In 1885, a fifth child was born.

Richard becomes ill

In March 1888, when Richard was 56, he ‘was stricken with paralysis, falling senseless to the floor’ while he was conducting business in his store. This was reported in The News, a Frederick, Maryland newspaper. He recovered enough from the stroke to be named one of the first commissioners of the town of Barnesville when it incorporated in May 1888.

Sadly, one year later on 13 May 1889, Richard suffered another stroke and died. He was buried at Monocacy Cemetery.

Richard left his family in good standing financially. Fannie continued to run the store. And some of the children went on to have interesting lives which I will write about in a few weeks.52ancestors-2015


3 movies/3 books about World War 1

Did you know World War 1 was called ‘The war that would end all wars’?  Did you know that the outbreak of the war (the straw that broke the camel’s back) was caused by the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie? War drawing

Last week I wrote about World War 1 veteran Harry Heiser. For a long time, I knew little about WW1. It’s always been overshadowed by the Great Depression and WW2 when studying history in school.


I learned about WW1 by watching a few movies and reading real books (as opposed to dry history textbooks).World War 1 newspaper


Here’s what I watched:

Sergeant York (Amazon instant video)

The African Queen (Amazon instant video and DVD from Netflix)

Lawrence of Arabia (Amazon instant video)Toy soldiers-1


And here’s what I read:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo


What WW1 books or movies have you read or watched?

52 Ancestors Week 29 – Harry Heiser, Veteran supporter

Harry Ellsworth HEISER was the oldest son and child of James E. HEISER and Katie BALDWIN HEISER. I wrote about James here and about Harry’s sister, Ruth, here.

Harry was born 16 Sept 1897 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He was raised in Lebanon where he graduated from high school, and soon after he entered World War 1 in 1917.Saluting statue A large group of young men from Lebanon went overseas together. They were part of the Machine Gun Battalion in France.

Wounded in the war

In September 1918, Katie received word that Harry had been gassed and wounded. He reported in a letter to his mother that he was in three gas attacks and was gassed to a certain extent. He said, ‘My lungs are not as they should be since I was in the hospital before. I hope they do not find anything else the matter with me.’

He also told about being wounded. ‘I had a narrow escape the afternoon before I left the company. One of the German’s favorite shells (a 9-inch high explosive) landed about five feet to my left and the force of the explosion knocked me across the street…I was knocked out for about a half hour, but not wounded.’ He was reported as wounded to his mother, though, by the War Department.

Harry returns and gets on with life

Harry returned home in May of 1919 and found work as an iron worker like his father. I guess Harry didn’t care for iron work since he went to school for accounting. By 1927 he was married to Dorothy A. BOETTNER, living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and working as an accountant. He likely met Dorothy at the Pennsylvania Business College in Lancaster. Their only child, Gloria, was born in 1927.Old Office Supply

Harry became a mail carrier in the mid 1930’s, a job he stayed in until retirement. Perhaps he was tired of working inside all the time. Or perhaps he tired of numbers all the time. Or perhaps the business he worked for went under during the Depression.

Dedicated to veterans

HEISER Harry scan from 1944

Harry at a Purple Heart event honoring a wounded WW2 soldier 1944

Harry’s time in the military influenced how he spent his non-working hours. As early as 1921, Harry was volunteering his time to honor veterans as part of a gun salute at a military funeral.

Once married, Harry and Dorothy were both active in veterans organizations in Lancaster – American Legion, VFW, Military Order of the Purple Hearts, Disabled Veterans, and more. Harry was a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Hearts and served as a national commander and state commander in that organization.

Still active in retirement

Harry and his family lived in several locations in Lancaster through the years, renting each time. But around 1950 they settled at 504 W. Chestnut Street in Lancaster. Here’s a link to the house: 504 W. Chestnut Street

HEISER Harry scan from 1964

Harry at a convention of the Order of the Purple Heart. He is on the left. I can see a lot of resemblance between him and my father, who is a Heiser.

Harry retired from work in 1964, but he didn’t retire from life. As he had done most of his adult life, he continued to support veterans in his state and community.

In 1984, Harry passed away at his residence after a lengthy illness. He was 86 years old.





Short stories and rough drafts

Lots of people have ideas of how to become a better writer. Ray Bradbury said to write a new short story every week, that at the end of the year you’d have 52 stories, and they couldn’t be all bad.

A blogger, whose name and blogpost I have misplaced, said to read a short story every day. It’s a great way to learn story structure and more.Journal and coffee

I have proof that’s true from my years of homeschooling my kids. I had them good literature so they would learn to write well. It worked.

I started doing both the reading and writing on July 1. I grabbed an old copy of 52 Great American Short Stories off the bookshelf in the living room, and started with that.

Last night, I finished the rough of short story #1 called St. Pete, and today I started the rough of short story #2, tentatively called She Won’t Swing.

I’m looking for suggestions for short stories to read. Got any?

52 ancestors Week 28 – Howard White – He got too cold

Howard White, my 1st cousin thrice removed, was the son of William Burgess WHITE, Sr. (1825-1891) and Sarah Ann (Sally) PRICE WHITE (1831-1906). He was the middle child of the seven children born to William and Sally, and he was born in September 1857.

Howard lived in Montgomery County, Maryland his entire life. He went to school and learned to read and write. And he learned blacksmithing. His father was a farmer.20150308-LancasterPA-LandisValleyMuseum-Blacksmith (6)

When Howard was 24 he married Alice Virginia TRUNDLE. That was in 1881. Over the next 7 years, Alice had four children: William LaRue, Alice Virginia, Thomas Oliver, and Henry Granville.

A successful man

Howard continued working as a blacksmith and was obviously successful at it since in the 1900 census Howard owned his own house, free of a mortgage. He and his family were living in Barnesville in Montgomery County at that time. He was 43 years old in 1900.


I bet Howard would have liked having a motorcycle for his sheriff duties.

I don’t know why or when, but at some point between 1900 and 1904, Howard became a Deputy Sheriff in Montgomery County. Perhaps it was on an as-needed basis, or perhaps he was tired of being a blacksmith, or perhaps something else.

Too cold for Howard…or anyone else

The winters of 1903/1904 and 1904/1905 are two of the coldest winters on record for Maryland. The average temperature in Frederick, Maryland, for the winter of 03/04 was 20.4 °F. Frederick is about 30 miles north of Barnesville, where Howard lived. Just imagine those temperatures with no central heating, drafty houses, and transportation being on foot or in a horse drawn wagon or carriage. Brrrrr.Icy branches





For reasons unknown, Howard was overexposed to the cold on the night of January 4, 1904. Was he out helping someone? Did he slip and fall and go unnoticed? Had it been snowing or sleeting? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t have taken long in those temperatures for anyone to get too cold even without snow or ice falling.Snowing at Night

According to the Evening Star newspaper, both his feet and one hand were badly frozen from his time in the cold. The paper said, ‘amputation of one and possibly both feet will, it is thought, be necessary. His exact condition will not be known for several days.’

Less than two weeks later, in the January 16, 1904 edition of The News from Frederick Maryland, it was reported that ‘Mr. Howard White, of near here, is critically ill.’ Howard did not recover. He was just 46 years old.

What else I know of Howard

I don’t know exactly the date Howard died, but on February 6, his brother William Burgess WHITE, Jr. was named as the administrator of Howard’s property, according to the Evening Star.

I was unable to locate a death notice or obituary for Howard, but I do know that he is buried at Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville, Maryland, which is in Montgomery County. Many more of my WHITE descendants are buried there as well.


52 Ancestors Week 27 – James E Heiser, Sr A Hard-working Family Man

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Ruth N. HEISER, my first cousin twice removed. Today I am writing about her father, James E. HEISER. James, my great grand uncle, was born about 1869 in Carroll County, Maryland. He was the fourth of eight children born to Daniel Christopher HEISER and Susan Matilda CUSHING.Brickwork


James had an average upbringing for the time. His father was a stone mason, and even though many of the Heiser men became stone masons as well James did not.

Pennsylvania welcome sign


At about 20 years of age, James went to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and started a nearly lifelong career as an iron worker. James lived in several locations in Harrisburg until he met and married Catherine S. (Katie) BALDWIN in 1897. The couple and their first three children moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1901.

Within a few years’ time they were living at 9 North Third Street in Lebanon, the home where they would raise their entire family of 7 children. Click here to see a google maps view of this house. Iron works fire

Besides being an iron worker, James belonged to the Improved Order of the Red Men, America’s oldest fraternal organization. Learn more about them here.

James kept modern with the times by purchasing an automobile. The entire family was in a car accident in 1917 ‘when the steering gear became displaced or something else happened’ according to James. The Lebanon Daily News reported on the accident and said that all were thrown from the vehicle, but amazingly no one suffered any serious injuries.Metal toy car

Sometime in the 1920’s, James went to work for the city of Lebanon. He was probably glad to get away from the backbreaking iron work he’d been doing for decades.

The family was close. According to the 1925 Lebanon City Directory, all the children (ages 10-22) were living with James and Katie on Third Street. And once grown, only one of the children moved more than a few hours away from Lebanon.

On 14 October 1928, James and Katie joined the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Harrisburg, Katie by transfer of membership from an unknown church and James by profession of faith. Twelve days later, on 26 October 1928, Katie died from a heart attack and was buried at Middletown Cemetery in Middletown, Pennsylvania.Church steeple

About six months after Katie’s passing, James was in another auto accident. According the Lebanon Semi-Weekly News, James was crossing Cumberland Street and was within a stone’s throw of his home when he was struck by a speeding Hudson sedan. Benjamin TERRY, the driver of the sedan, attended to James by carrying him into a nearby doctor’s office. James didn’t appear to be fatally injured, although he did have a broken leg and was admitted to the hospital.

Taken at Fairfield Waters Shopping Centre TownsvilleQld.I retain copywrite.

1926 Dodge Sedan, typical car of that era

A few days later, James appeared delirious during night time checks, and the next day ‘he complained of inward pains, but the surgeons at the hospital did not operate because of the danger involved to the patient. It was hoped internal complications would pass without subjecting the man to the ordeal of drastic measures.’

The complications did not pass on their own, and James died that day, 3 April 1929. An autopsy revealed he died of internal bleeding from a punctured liver. James was buried alongside Katie at Middletown Cemetery.

Two of their children continued to live on Third Street for a few years, but eventually moved from that address. I will tell some of their stories in the coming weeks.


52 Ancestors Week 26 – Boy vs. Train

THOMAS Charles T photo

Photo of Charley courtesy of Mary Grainger Harper

Charles T. THOMAS, known as Charley, was the son of Jeremiah M. THOMAS (1852-1930) and Mary Ann AUGHTRY THOMAS (1858-1936). He was my 1st cousin, thrice removed. The Thomas family lived in Dentsville which is now a part of Columbia, South Carolina.

One morning in February 1908, 15- year old Charley was bringing his older sister, Susie THOMAS, to their parents’ house so she could nurse their sick mother. They traveled along in a buggy at a steady gait with a mule doing the pulling.Train tracks

As they crossed the railroad tracks near Waddell, South Carolina, they were hit by the Florida Limited train of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. Witnesses said the train did not blow a whistle or ring the bell. Susie confirmed that later.


The buggy was almost completely demolished on impact, according to a newspaper clipping I found about the tragedy. The mule was thrown about 65 feet and died instantly.

Charley and Susie were both thrown several feet. Charley died at the scene, and Susie was wounded internally.

THOMAS Susie and her husband Jim LOCKLIER

Susie and her husband, Jim Locklier, courtesy of Mary Grainger Harper

There were concerns she might not recover, but she did. She married, but never had any children. Perhaps she was unable to because of injuries sustained in the accident.

Charley was buried at the Thomas burial ground, now known as the Thomas cemetery. I visited there a few years ago, and didn’t see a stone for him, but now I know he is there.

Thomas Cemetery-5

My turn as the storyteller

Last Friday I blogged about the Griffin family and how beauty came from the ashes of tragedy. Today, I stood in front of the gravestone for Catherine (Katie) Griffin Grant and her husband Zechariah Taylor (Jack) Grant.

GRANT Zechariah and Catherine headstone

Jack and Katie Grant headstone at Mt. Olivet Methodist Church Cemetery in Cheraw, SC

It was gratifying and startling at the same time. The last time I visited this cemetery was over 30 years ago. I was with my mother and some of her cousins who knew some stories about our people buried there. It was overwhelming hearing them talk about the people and not being sure how anyone was related to me.

Looking at Jack and Katie’s gravestones brought back those memories.

But today I was the storyteller, and I had the delight and satisfaction of telling about our great-grandparents and grand aunts and uncles and more…the delight and satisfaction of keeping them all alive.

52 Ancestors Week 25 – The rest of Henrietta’s story

Last week I said that the horrific death of Tom GRIFFIN wasn’t the end of the story concerning his wife, Henrietta, and their four children. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Tom’s brother, John

First I want to back up a little in time. Tom had a brother named John Newberry GRIFFIN. John was born 19 Feb 1862, just 11 months after Tom. I expect Tom and John were close, almost like twins.

John worked in turpentine farming, like Tom, but I don’t know or not if he was working at the same place as Tom when the accident happened that took Tom’s life.

When John was 19, he married Flora Henrietta GRANT who went by Henrietta. The next year, 1882, John’s Henrietta gave birth to Catherine Henrietta GRIFFIN, who was called Katie.


Their little family was off to a good start, but tragedy struck soon after – a tornado outbreak.



According to Wikipedia,’ the Enigma tornado outbreak of February 1884 is thought to be among the largest and most widespread tornado outbreaks in American history.’ Read more about it here if you’d like.


Another young life lost

The Farmer and Mechanic newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina, listed John’s wife, Henrietta, amongst those killed in the tornado outbreak.

John survived the tornado, and Katie did, too. The paper said that Katie was found unhurt in her dead mother’s arms. Family folklore says that during the tornado, either Katie’s grandmother or aunt held on to Katie with one arm and to a tree with the other.lone_tree_2_bw

John was still mourning the loss of his wife when his brother, Tom, died in 1887. John and Tom’s Henrietta consoled each other in their grief, and you probably know what happened next.


Beauty from ashes

According to Cindy, a great-granddaughter of John, ‘With the death of both their spouses, they found new love with each other.’ John and Henrietta married and combined their families and went on to have four children together.Heart candies

John and Henrietta left South Carolina about 1899 for Coffee County, Alabama to work in the turpentine forests there. John was working as a distiller. I wonder if that worried Henrietta after what happened to Tom.

In 1910, John was a general farmer, but in 1920 he was back to turpentine farming. At some point, John and Henrietta moved to Opp, in Covington County, Alabama where John built and operated a service station on the Florala Highway.


Gas station-1


The couple lived in Opp and worked John’s service station until both passed away in Manatee, Florida; Henrietta passed on 9 January 1927, and John passed 11 days later on 20 January 1927. Curious that they died so close together and not at home in Alabama, isn’t it?

John and Henrietta were buried at Friendship United Methodist Church in Covington County, Alabama. They suffered tragedies at a young age, but went on to find love again and to live full lives together.52ancestors-2015

52 Ancestors Week 24 – Tom’s Griffin’s Horrific Death

Thomas Pearson GRIFFIN, known as Tom, was the son of William Harris GRIFFIN, Sr, and Margaret PEARSON GRIFFIN. Tom was born 16 March 1861 in Marlboro County, South Carolina. He’s my 2nd great grand uncle.Pine Misty forest

Tom attended school and started his work life as a farm laborer, probably on a turpentine farm. Episode four of Welcome to River Town is all about turpentine farming. River Town is a mini-series about live in rural North Carolina in the mid-1850’s.  Click here to watch.

In November 1882, he married Henrietta STANTON, also a Marlboro County native. Tom and Henrietta had four children over the next five years. The fourth one, Thomas Jr (called Tomie), was born in March 1887.

Tom was working as a distiller on a turpentine farm in the Sandy Run Township of Lexington County in the summer of 1887. All of the children had been born in either Marlboro or Chesterfield Counties. I’m thinking that Tom had gone ahead of the family and was waiting for Tomie to get a little age on him before Henrietta and the children joined him.


Dewy Pine needles

According to The Intelligencer newspaper out of Anderson, South Carolina, ‘a frightful accident occurred at the turpentine distillery of Hilliard Goodwin in the upper part of Sandy Run Township’ on 18 July 1887.


The paper went on to say, ‘The stiller, a white man named Thomas Griffin, and a negro, were rolling some spirit barrels away from the fire, when one of the barrels exploded in their hands, and instantly enveloped them in flames. Both men were literally burnt to ashes.’Fire

A more detailed report a few days later in the same paper said, “All the stock about the building and Griffin and the entire establishment was burned up in sight of Mr. Godwin and several others who were powerless to render any assistance to the burning man, or stay the progress of the flames.’

Tom was buried at Gaston First Baptist Church Cemetery in Gaston, Lexington County, South Carolina.

But this isn’t the end of this story for Henrietta and the children. Next week I’ll tell you the rest.52ancestors-2015