Monday, October 29, 2018

Samuel Belding Smith

View of modern day Fitchburg, Massachusetts (source)

The parents of Samuel G. Smith were Samuel Belding Smith and Mary Hall of Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

Samuel Belding Smith was born on October 20, 1807 in Winchester, New Hampshire. He was the son of Samuel Smith and Hannah Belding. Mary Hall was born on August 23, 1803 in Westminster, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Elisha Hall and Prudence Martin. They were married on July 29, 1827 in Fitchburg. Samuel and Mary had three children together:

Mary Ann Smith (b. 1828; d. aft. 1910; m. Philip Howe)
Sophia Smith (b. 1830; d. 1851)
Samuel G. Smith (b. 1837; d. 1922; m. Ellen Partridge)

Samuel B. Smith was a carpenter. The 1850 U.S. Census shows him living in Fitchburg with his family and notes his occupation. The real estate he owned was valued at $650, so it appears that Samuel was living comfortably. With him in his home was his wife, Mary, and their eldest child, Mary Ann, who was recently married to Philip Howe and had six month-old twin boys Alvah and Alvin Howe. Philip is not listed in the household, but he and Mary Ann were definitely married at the time, so it's possible that he was away for some reason at the time of the census. Another explanation is that Mary Ann and Philip may have had a household elsewhere, but Samuel and Mary might still have included Mary Ann and the twins as part of their family to the census recorder. Also living with Samuel and Mary was their 19-year old daughter Sophia and their 12-year old son Samuel. This moment, captured in the census, is bittersweet, for two tragedies were about to befall the Smith family.

On August 5, 1851, Sophia Smith died. She was twenty. The tragedy of losing their daughter must have devastated Samuel and Mary. Sophia was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Fitchburg, next to her paternal grandmother, Hannah Belding Smith. Then, in 1852, Alvah Howe, their two-year old grandson, died.

Sometime between 1852 and 1860, Samuel and Mary Smith decided to leave Fitchburg. We have no way of knowing if the dual losses they suffered prompted this move, or if it was purely a decision born of economic opportunity. The couple settled in Bunker Hill, Illinois, over a thousand miles west of Fitchburg, with their son Samuel. Mary Ann and Philip Howe accompanied them, setting up their own household nearby.

The distance between Fitchburg, MA and Bunker Hill, IL.


Samuel continued to work as a carpenter in Bunker Hill. He died there on December 8, 1893 at the age of 78.

It's not clear when Mary Hall Smith died. There is a record at Bunker Hill Cemetery stating that a Mary Smith born in 1803 died on 17 May 1886 and is buried there. It would be easy to assume this is Samuel's wife, Mary. However, some peculiar information is found on Samuel Smith's probate record. This document, dated 27 December 1893, contains a statement from Samuel's son, Samuel G. Smith, which reads as follows:

Petitioner further shows that the said Samuel B. Smith died, seized and possessed of real and personal estate consisting chiefly of six (6) acres of land in the North East corner of of Section Number Twenty-Two (22) in Township Seven (7) Range Eight (8) west of the third principal meridian in the County of Macoupin and the State of Illinois, [unreadable word] old furniture, carpenter's tools, etc. 
All of said personal estate being estimated to be worth abut twenty five dollars. 
That said deceased left surviving him Mary Smith, his widow who has for a number of years resided out of the state and Samuel Smith and Mary A. Howe his children as heirs.

This indicates that Mary had not been living with Samuel for years, and was not even in the state of Illinois, much less buried in Bunker Hill Cemetery. Where was Mary? Why wasn't she living with her husband? In 1893 she would have been 89 years of age. It is possible that she'd was infirm and had gone to live in a medical facility, but why out of state? These questions don't have answers at this time. I cannot find any records for Mary Smith after the 1880 U.S. Census, which shows her living with Samuel in Bunker Hill.

Samuel and Mary Smith were the first of their immediate family to move west. This marked the beginning of the Smith family's migration from Massachusetts to California. Their daughter, Mary Ann Smith Howe, would take her family to Santa Ana, California. Their son Samuel Smith's children would later follow their cousins west to California, settling in nearby Los Angeles.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Samuel G. Smith, Civil War Veteran

Samuel G. Smith
Samuel G. Smith

I'm continuing my posts about the Smith family, and the ancestral line of my paternal grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith. Most recently, I profiled Walter Samuel Smith, my second great-grandfather. Walter's father was Samuel G. Smith of Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

My third great-grandfather, Samuel G. Smith, was born on June 9, 1837 in Fitchburg. He was the youngest child and only son of his parents, Samuel Belding Smith and Mary Hall. As a young man, he and his parents moved to Bunker Hill, Illinois. They can all be found in the same Bunker Hill household in the 1860 census. Samuel was 23 in 1860, a very dangerous time to be a young man. The American Civil War was on the horizon, and in 1861, Samuel enlisted in the 7th Illinois Infantry Regiment.

Samuel Smith’s military career can be confirmed with a record from the database "U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938." The record for Samuel Smith states that he enlisted in the 7th Illinois Infantry on July 11, 1861 in Bunker Hill, Illinois. This would have made him part of Company F. His rank was private. Samuel served in the same company as his future brother-in-law, Wallace Partridge. They were both from Bunker Hill and volunteered for service with the 7th Illinois Infantry within days of each other in 1861. It's not known whether they were friends before enlisting, or if they created a bond during the the war, but Samuel married Wallace's sister, Ellen Henrietta Partridge, five months after being discharged in July 1864.

There is no record of any specific experiences Samuel had during the Civil War. We do know that he served for three years without significant injury or illness, which is really remarkable. The 7th Illinois Infantry saw action at the Battle of Fort Donelson, the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Corinth, the Battle of Allatoona Pass, the March to the Sea (under command of General Sherman) and the Carolinas Campaign. These were all very significant campaigns which resulted in a lot of casualties, so Samuel's ability to survive rather unscathed is incredible. He was discharged on July 29, 1864 at the end of his term of service. The war would continue for another nine months, but it does not appear that Samuel reenlisted after being discharged in 1864.

The Battle at Shiloh, by artist Thure de Thulstrup.
Image in public domain, available at the United States Library of Congress. 

After completing his military service, Samuel returned home to Bunker Hill. Five months later, on 27 December 1864, he married Ellen Henrietta Partridge. Ellen was the eldest daughter of James Partridge and Sarah Pendleton, both of whom had been born in England. Samuel was 27 at the time of the marriage, and his bride was just 18. Samuel and Ellen had four children together:

  1. Mary Emma Leticia Smith (b. 1865, d. aft 1940, m. Oscar Clement Partridge)
  2. Walter Samuel Smith (b. 1869, d. 1962, m. Julia Emrette Bigham)
  3. George D. Smith (b. 1877, d. 1967, m. Elizabeth Roberts)
  4. Charles Edgar Smith (b. 1884, d. 1962, m. Florence Belle Isaac)


The 1880 U.S. Census lists Samuel's occupation as stone mason. The 1900 U.S. Census lists his occupation as farmer. The 1870 U.S. Census describes him as a "plasterer and farmer." He owned his own farm in Bunker Hill, right near his parents, Samuel and Mary Smith. In 1893, when Samuel was 56 years of age, his father died. In 1905, aged 68, Samuel lost his wife, Ellen. They had been married for forty years at the time of her death. By 1914, when Samuel was 77 years old, he had gone to live in Togus, Maine.

Togus in 1906. Source

From Wikipedia:
Togus is a facility operated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in Chelsea, Maine. The facility was built as a resort hotel, and housed Union veterans of the American Civil War prior to being converted to a veterans hospital. It was the first veterans facility developed by the United States government.
Samuel lived at the veterans facility for the rest of his life, and died there on June 10, 1922. He was 82 years old. At the time of his death, all four of his children were still living and he had nine grandchildren. His body was taken home to Bunker Hill for burial, and he lies next to his wife Ellen in the Bunker Hill Cemetery. 



Monday, August 6, 2018

Julia Emrette Bigham and Her Ancestors

After a long delay to accommodate some extensive work travel, I'm continuing a series of posts about my second great-grandfather, Walter Samuel Smith, and his wife, Julia Emrette Bigham. In my last post about this family, I wrote about Walter's siblings. In researching Julia's siblings, I went down the rabbit hole a bit and decided to sketch an outline of her entire Bigham ancestry. I'll come back to this family in more depth later, but wanted to get the basics recorded.

Julia Emrette Bigham Smith

Julia Bigham and Her Siblings

Julia was born April 20, 1869 in Perry County, Illinois, the daughter of William John Bigham and Angeline Campbell. She was the eldest of four children born to William and Angeline. Her siblings were as follows:

Levi Leo Bigham (b. 1872; d. 1949; m. Grace Hodges)
Emma Jane Bigham (b. 1874; d. 1917; m. Robert Reider)
Viva Louella Bigham (b. 1877; d. 1974)

The Bigham family lived in Perry County, where Julia's father William was a farmer. Unfortunately, in December 1876, when Julia was just seven, her father died at the age of 42. Her mother, Angeline was six months pregnant at the time of her husband's death. Not long afterward, Angeline moved the family to Rome Township, in nearby Jefferson County. Her brother, Francis Campbell, was a farmer there, and she must have wanted to be closer to her family. Angeline was only 25 years old when she lost her husband. She did not remarry.

All three of Angeline and William's daughters moved to Los Angeles as young women. Julia, the eldest, appears to have been the first to make the journey. She was living there by 1890, when, at age 20, she married Walter Samuel Smith. 

Emma seems to have been the next to join her sister in Los Angeles. In 1899, Emma married Robert Reider, son of Israel Reider and Harriet Leonard, in California. They had two daughters, Katharyn Reider and Ruth Reider. Emma died in Los Angeles in 1914 at the age of 42. 

Viva also left Illinois for California, and was living there by at least 1910, when she is found in the census living with her sister Julia and brother-in-law Walter Smith. Viva worked in a chocolate factory for many years. She never married.

Levi Bigham stayed in Illinois, where he married Grace Hodges, daughter of Isham Hodges and Frances Hays, in 1896. They settled in Marion County, where Levi worked as a farmer. Levi and Grace did not have any children.

The location of Chester County in South Carolina


William John Bigham

Julia’s father, William John Bigham, was born May 25, 1834 in Chester County, South Carolina. William was the son of Elijah Bigham and Elizabeth Isabelle Gaston. Elijah was a farmer, a popular profession in Chester County. Census reports show most of the Bigham family's neighbors were involved in farming. Elijah and Elizabeth had ten sons, so William grew up in a bustling household full of siblings.

In the mid-1850s, the Bigham family moved from South Carolina to Perry County, Illinois. William, the third eldest of the children, would have been in his mid-teens at the time of the move. The Bighams appear to have moved as an extended family unit. In addition to his parents and siblings, at least one set of William's grandparents traveled with him to Illinois. His paternal grandparents, Isaac Bigham and Rachel Weir, are buried in Hopewell Cemetery in Pickneyville, Perry County.

William's eldest brother, Jefferson Bigham, set up his own farm in Perry County. In 1860, both William and his older brother Ebenzer Bigham are listed in the U.S. Census as farm hands on their brother Jefferson's farm. However, the brothers are also listed in that same census in the household of their mother, Elizabeth, on her nearby property. Ebenzer had bought his own 80-acre parcel of land to farm in 1857, so it is odd that he isn't recorded as living there in 1860. While it's not clear where exactly William was residing in 1860, it's clear that he was in close proximity to his mother and siblings, and involved in farming.

On November 24, 1866, William married Angeline Campbell, the daughter of Andrew Ross Campbell and Cindrilla Evaline Greene. Angeline was born October 7, 1851 in Perry County and was just 15 when she married William, who was 32, more than twice her age. While this may have been an instance of true love, the marriage might also have resulted from a shortage of young men in the years following the Civil War. Angeline may not have had a lot of options when it came to marriage.

Angeline’s father, Andrew Ross Campbell, had also come to Perry County from Chester, South Carolina. There, he married Cindrilla Greene, the daughter of Levi Greene and Elizabeth Elen Short. Levi and Elizabeth had arrived in Perry County from Pennsylvania and Kentucky, respectively.

The Thresherman's Association in Pickneyville, Perry County, hosts an annual Fall Festival that includes demonstrations of farming techniques and an antique tractor pull, in celebration of the area's farming history. Our Bigham ancestors were farmers in Perry County.
[photo source: City of Pickneyville]


Elijah Bigham

Elijah Bigham, father of William John Bigham, was born about 1800 in Chester, South Carolina. He married Elizabeth Isabelle Gaston, the daughter of William Gaston and Jennet (or Janet) MacMillan. These families were both Scots-Irish, people of Scottish ancestry who had come from what is now Northern Ireland to South Carolina in the mid-1700s. They were part of a large wave of Scots-Irish immigration to the American south.

Elijah Bigham and Elizabeth Gaston had ten sons:

George W. Bigham (b. 1828; d. 1864 in the Civil War; m. Mary Ann Campbell)
Isaac Jefferson Bigham "Jefferson" (b. 1829; d. 1874; m. Sarah Jane Campbell)
Robert Bigham (b. 1830; d. 1871; m. Cindrilla Greene)
Ebenezer Bigham (b. abt 1831; d. 1878; m. (1) Martha Campbell (2) Dorothy Wood)
William John Bigham (b. 1834; d. 1876; m. Angeline Campbell)
Josiah Bigham (b. abt 1836; d. 1874; m. (1) Harriet Logan (2) Octavia Willis)
Middleton Bigham (b. 1837; d. 1913; m. Mary Elizabeth Fones)
Samuel Thomas Bigham (b. 1845; d. 1918; m. (1) Permelia Gibson (2) Nancy Boyd)
Leroy Bigham (b. 1846; d. 1900; m. (1) Barbara Beck (2) Clarinda Willis (3) Malanda Justice
Alexander Bigham (b. 1848; d. 1899; m. Josephine Foreman)

There are two common trends that become apparent when looking at the lives of the Bigham brothers. Many of the brothers died fairly young, in their 30s or 40s. Also, four of the brothers married Campbell women. The eldest brothers, George and Jefferson, appear to have married sisters. Mary Ann and Sarah Jane Campbell were likely both the daughters of Andrew Campbell (b. abt. 1799). Ebenezer's wife, Martha Campbell, was the daughter of John M. Campbell and Nancy Ayres, and almost certainly a cousin of Mary Ann and Sarah Jane, although I haven't worked out all the details of the extended Campbell relationships yet. William, my ancestors, married Angeline Campbell, who is likely connected to the other Campbell girls. There were a lot of Bighams and Campbells living in Chester County, and the families had a close relationship.

One other thing to note is that the third Bigham brother, Robert, married Cindrilla Greene. This is the same Cindrilla Greene who is my fourth great-grandmother, via her first marriage to Andrew Ross Campbell.

Isaac Bigham

Isaac, father of Elijah Bigham, was born, rather incredibly, on July 4, 1776, in Chester, South Carolina. He married Rachel Weir, daughter of George and Mary Weir, who, like Isaac’s parents, were Scots-Irish immigrants from Northern Ireland. He died in October 1862 in Pickneyville, Perry County, Illinois.

James Bigham

James C. Bigham is our earliest known Bigham ancestor. He was born in County Antrim, Ireland, and likely emigrated to America with his parents as a teenager or young man. He married Nancy J. McFadden. He died in South Carolina in 1801, just a year after the death of his son, Elijah.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Who Do You Think You Are? Connections



I haven't posted for a while because life has been hectic. My family made a difficult move and we've faced a lot of adversity lately, so I have been pretty distracted. I actually am in progress on a post about the Bigham family that I've been working on for the past month, but I am really bogged down in some additional research that needs doing on those ancestors, and haven't finished it.

There is always time for Who Do You Think You Are?, though. It's great when this show comes back to television and I can immerse myself in the stories of others. Several episodes have resonated with me this season and provided some interesting connections to my husband's family.

Andie & Duckie, Pretty In Pink (1986)

My husband and I attended a 1980's-themed fundraiser recently. Several people commented that, in his costume, my husband looked like Duckie from Pretty In Pink. It became a running joke that evening. My husband doesn't particularly resemble Jon Cryer, but in period costume, there was some similarity. Not long afterward, I sat down to watch Jon Cryer's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? At the beginning of the show, an Ancestry.com researcher showed Jon a preliminary family tree, and it was filled with Wheelers from Massachusetts. I turned to my husband and said, "You are totally related to Duckie." He raised his eyebrows. My husband is not very interested in genealogy and probably could not have told you he had Wheelers in his tree if his life depended upon it. "Just wait," I said, "By the end of the episode, I'll show you the connection."

It took a little longer than the length of the episode to find the link, and the earliest ancestors in the chain don't have the kind of proof I'd consider solid, but for entertainment purposes only, I have determined that my husband is Jon Cryer's 11th cousin. They share a 10th great-grandfather.

Cora Emily Wheeler of Berlin, Massachusetts (1872-1929) was my husband's paternal great-grandmother. She descended from a long line of New England Wheelers. Their immigrant ancestor was George Wheeler (b. 1606) of Bedfordshire, England, who came to Massachusetts about 1638/1639. George was the son of Thomas Wheeler of Bedfordshire, and one of several Wheeler brothers who came to America around the same time. There's been a lot of research and writing done on these early Wheelers, and there's not always agreement about the names of the brothers, or whether one was actually a cousin and not a brother, but they were clearly a family unit who came to America together. Jon Cryer descends from Richard Wheeler (b. 1614), who is believed by many to be George Wheeler's brother. Jon's ancestors ended up in Concord, Massachusetts around the time of the American Revolution, while my husband's were nearby in Marlborough, Massachusetts. So, now I can tease my husband about his connection to Duckie, and that is priceless.

The trial of a witch at the First Church of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. Etching, American, late 19th century.

More recently, I watched Jean Smart's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? My husband was coming in and out of the room as I watched Jean learn that her ancestor, Dorcas Hoar, had been imprisoned on charges of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. "Didn't you say one of my ancestors was accused of witchcraft?" he asked. I vaguely remembered this story, but not the specifics, so I looked it up as we watched the show.

My husband's eighth great-grandmother was Rebecca Addington Chamberlain, of Billerica, Massachusetts. She was 67 years old in 1692, the year of the witchcraft accusations, and it was common for older women to be targets of those claims. She was imprisoned in Cambridge and died there on September 6, 1692. There is no trial testimony or specific account of Rebecca's experience. Most of the others arrested in Billerica were asked to enter a plea and sent to trial soon after their arrest, so it's not clear why there is no record of Rebecca's trial. It's possible she did not have one. Several local histories, including History of Middlesex County (Boston, 1885) and History of Billerica (1883), mention that Rebecca died in prison while charged with witchcraft, but unfortunately, we don't have a record of the circumstances. Regardless, it was a very sad way for an elderly woman, the mother of thirteen children, to die.

Jean Smart's ancestor survived the trials, possibly by dragging out her trial and then pleading guilty, with the request that she be allowed a month to pray and repent before execution. This bought her a little extra time, and during that time, Massachusetts governor Sir William Phips ordered an end to witchcraft-related prosecutions. Rebecca Chamberlain did not have the gift of time, and her life ended in prison. While it's very unlikely that Dorcas Hoar and Rebecca Chamberlain knew each other, as they were from different towns and imprisoned in different facilities, they had a similar experience, and were both a part of a tragic and important moment in American history.

Who Do You Think You Are? inspired me to look back into my family tree for information I already knew, but hadn't reviewed in quite a while. It reminds me that there are still so many stories yet to be told here. I'd better get back to writing.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Siblings of Walter Samuel Smith

Walter Samuel Smith

My second great-grandfather, Walter Samuel Smith, had three siblings. The children of Samuel G. Smith and Ellen Henrietta Partridge were as follows:

Mary Emma Leticia Smith (b. 1865)
Walter Samuel Smith (b. 1869)
George Smith (b. 1877)
Charles Edgar Smith (b. 1884)

Mary Emma Leticia Smith

Mary Emma was born on September 16, 1865 in Bunker Hill, Illinois. On December 15, 1897, at the age of 32, she married Oscar Clement Partridge, the son of Timothy Partridge and Frances Harbeson. Oscar was Mary Emma's second cousin. They shared the same great-grandparents: James Partridge and Rebecca Dean of High Wycombe, England. Oscar descended from James and Rebecca's son John Steven Partridge, while Mary Emma descended from their son James Partridge, Jr. Both families emigrated to Bunker Hill, Illinois in the early 1800s. Aside from their familial relationship, a curious item about this marriage is Mary Emma and Oscar's age difference. Oscar was born on September 19, 1876, and was 11 years younger than his bride.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, three years after their marriage, Oscar and Mary Emma were settled in Witt Township, Montgomery County, Illinois, where Oscar worked as a farmer. They would have four children together:

Laura Louise Partridge (1898 - 1986)
Samuel Isaac Partridge (1900 - 1922)
Mary Marguerite Partridge (1903 - 1939)
Walter Ralph Partridge (1905 - 1985)

Oscar and and Mary Emma divorced sometime between 1905 and 1920, likely before 1910. The children continued to live with Mary Emma after the divorce. Oscar appears to have moved to Missouri, where he died on March 6, 1951, at the age of 74. It is believed that he remarried at least once, and possibly several times. I have not been able to determine a death date for Mary Emma, but she lived until at least 1940, when she appears in the U.S. Census at age 74, in Harter, Illinois. She did not remarry before her death.


Tragically, Mary Emma and Oscar's son Samuel died at the age of 21. He had been working as a laborer in Bunker Hill at the time of his death. It's not clear whether there was an accident or if he became ill. He was not married before the time of his death and left behind no children.

Mary also died young. At the age of seventeen, she married Virgil Edwin Halterman, son of John Wesley Halterman and Rebecca "Nellie" Riggle. They had two sons: Virgil Edwin Halterman, Jr. (b. 1921) and John Wesley Halterman (b. 1923). She died in 1939, at the age of 36.

Eldest daughter Laura was granted the longevity that Samuel and Mary were not. She lived to be 87. In about 1920, she married Gilbert E. Halterman. Gilbert was the brother of Virgil Halterman, who married her younger sister Mary that same year. Laura and Gilbert had two sons: Gilbert E. Halterman, Jr. (b. 1921) and Charles Wesley Halterman (b. 1923). Laura died in Flora, Illinois, in January 1986.

The youngest Partridge sibling, Walter, married Blanche Esther Thompson, daughter of John Ewing Thompson and Jessie Tate. Together, they had five children: Cleo M. Partridge (b. 1925), Dorothy Partridge (b. 1927), John W. Partridge (b. 1931), Esther Marie Partridge (b. 1934), and Donald E. Partridge (b. 1937). Walter's family settled in Flora, Illinois, and then Harter, Illinois. Walter worked in a shoe factory. He died at the age of 80, in 1985.

George Smith

George D. Smith was the third of Samuel and Ellen Partridge's children. After his elder brother, Walter, moved to Los Angeles, George followed him. He is found in the 1900 U.S. Census living with his brother in Los Angeles. He was 23 years old at that time. Walter had gotten George a job at as a driver at the Union Ice Company, where he worked. By 1904, George married Elizabeth Roberts, and their only child, Milo Robert Smith, was born on May 9, 1904 in Los Angeles. George worked his way up to foreman at the Union Ice Company, and later transitioned to a foreman role at a lumber company. George died on August 10, 1967 in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about George's wife, Elizabeth. She was born in Wales, but was living in Los Angeles by the time she met George. She died in 1962, at the age of 80.

George and Elizabeth's only child, Milo Smith moved from Los Angeles to Berkeley before 1930, where he is found in the U.S. Census. He worked for Pacific Telegraph & Telephone, which was a popular employer in my family. My great-grandparents, George Rutherfurd and Julia Barrett, met while working at Pacific Telegraph & Telephone in Los Angeles. By 1940, George had married a young woman named Capitola Smith, daughter of Frank Smith and Elizabeth Marie Rader. They settled into married life in Berkeley. Capitola died in 1968 in San Francisco, and was buried in her native Missouri. After Capitola's death, Milo moved back to Southern California. In 1972, he married Pauline Cassell in Orange, California. He was 68 at the time. Neither of Milo's marriages resulted in children. He died on June 19, 1987 in Santa Barbara, California. He is buried in Missouri, next to Capitola.


Charles Edgar Smith

Charles Edgar Smith was the youngest of Samuel and Ellen Smith's children. He was born in September 1884, nineteen years after the eldest Smith sibling, Mary Emma. Like his brothers, Charles appears to have bolted for Los Angeles as soon as he finished high school. By 1909, he was living in Los Angeles, where he married Florence Belle Isaac, the daughter of Eli Egbert Isaac and Althea Jane Byers. Charles was 25 years old at the time of his marriage. They settled in Compton, where they would live for the rest of their lives. Charles got work as an electrician, and later became an electrical engineer. He spent 45 years working for the Pacific Electric Railway Co.

Charles and Florence had two daughters: Mirl Florence Smith (b. 1911) and Bernice Esther Smith (b. 1920). Mirl married Walter O. Brown. They had no children. She died on January 11, 2006. Bernice married William D. Barnhart and they had four children. She died on December 23, 2016.

Charles died on June 6, 1962 in Compton. Florence died on February 8, 1978.





Thursday, April 12, 2018

Walter Samuel Smith


Walter Samuel Smith with grandchildren Glenn, Virginia and Barbara Smith


Walter Samuel Smith was my second great-grandfather. He was the father of my great-grandfather Glenn Alvin Smith.

Walter was born on July 13, 1869 in Bunker Hill, Illinois. He was the second of four children born to his parents, Samuel G. Smith and Ellen Henrietta Partridge between 1865 and 1884.

Mary Emma Leticia Smith (b. 1865)
Walter Samuel Smith (b. 1869)
George Smith (b. 1877)
Charles Edgar Smith (b. 1884)


 (L): Charles Smith with wife Florence Isaac (C): Mary Emma Smith Partridge with children (R): George Smith


The Smith children were widely spaced. Walter was closest in age to his older sister, Mary Emma, who was four years his senior. His younger brothers were eight and fifteen years younger than him, which meant they were still young children when Walter left home and moved west to Los Angeles. However, both George and Charles later followed Walter to California, while Mary Emma married in Illinois and spent the rest of her life there.

Bunker Hill was a small farming town when the Smith family lived there. In 1880, when Walter was eleven years old, the population of Bunker Hill was just 1,441. (Wikipedia) Samuel and Ellen had moved their family to Bunker Hill from New England, and were joined by Samuel's parents, Samuel Belding Smith and Mary Hall Smith. They lived next door to each other in Bunker Hill, so Walter would have known his grandparents very well.

Walter's father Samuel worked as a stone cutter. This was a good profession in a growing town where new buildings were needed. Samuel would have cut stone for the floors and walls of new structures. The Smith family's neighbors in Bunker Hill were farmers, carpenters and day laborers. Many were immigrants from England, Ireland and Germany, and quite a few were New England transplants, like the Smiths. Many of the men had served in the Civil War, and having returned to Bunker Hill, were now raising children and investing in their community.

Modern day Bunker Hill. It remains a small town, with about 1,700 residents. (source)

It's not clear why Walter decided to leave Bunker Hill as a young man, but he appears to have moved to Los Angeles alone. He was living there by 1890, but his parents and siblings remained in Illinois. George moved to Los Angeles by 1905, when his son was born there. Charles likely migrated west around the same time, although the first record I find for him in Los Angeles is the 1910 census. Walter's sister and parents would never leave Illinois.

Walter's paternal aunt and uncle, Mary Ann Smith and Philip Howe, had been the first of the extended Smith family to move west. They relocated from Illinois to Southern California in the 1870s. This might have provided inspiration for Walter, Charles and George to follow them. These families appear to have had a strong relationship both in Illinois and California. Walter was on good terms with his cousin, Alvin Jared Howe, who became a doctor and community leader in Santa Ana, Orange County. Walter named his son, Glenn Alvin Smith, after his cousin Alvin Howe.

Walter Samuel Smith (third from left) holding great-grandson Tom Smith. At left, his grandson Glenn M. Smith and son Glenn A. Smith

On March 19, 1890, Walter Samuel Smith married Julia Emrette Bigham in Los Angeles. Julia was the daughter of William John Bigham and Angeline Campbell of Pickneyville, in Perry County, Illinois. Pickneyville is just under a two-hour drive from Bunker Hill today. I can't find any evidence that the Smith and Bigham families knew each other in Illinois, however. I've checked to see if Walter and Julia's fathers might have served together in the Civil War, but they seem to have been in different units. It appears that Walter and Julia met for the first time in Los Angeles.

After marrying, Walter and Julia bought a house at 732 East 20th Street, just south of downtown Los Angeles. There, they welcomed their two children.

Glenn Alvin Smith (b. 1891)
Laurita Smith (b. 1893)

732 East 20th Street, Los Angeles

Walter worked for the Union Ice Company in Los Angeles. He started as a driver, but worked his way up to foreman at the plant. The Union Ice Company was founded in 1882, and played a very important role in the lives of Los Angelenos. In a time before refrigeration, residents relied upon blocks of ice to keep food cold. This ice was delivered to their home and placed in a cooler called an "icebox." This kept perishable items cool. Ice was a necessity, and Union Ice Company provided it. Walter would work there the entirety of his career. When his brother, George, came to Los Angeles, he also began working at Union Ice Company, likely because Walter got him a job. For more on the history of the Union Ice Company, I recommend this informative article from the Los Angeles Times.

Circa 1920s photo courtesy of the California History Room Photo Collection - California State Library.

Voter registration records show that in 1896, the Smiths were living in downtown Los Angeles, at 176 Hewitt Street. Today, this is Little Tokyo, just blocks from MOCA and the L.A. River. City Directories from 1903 and 1904 show the Smith family had moved again, to 613 Mimosa Drive in Los Angeles. This is in the Glassell Park neighborhood, northeast of downtown Los Angeles. After that, the family appears to have settled for some time at 1427 E. 6th Street, where they remained through the 1920s. Today, no homes remain in this area just east of downtown Los Angeles and just west of the L.A. River. It's completely industrialized and populated by long rows of warehouses.

Walter and Julia's daughter Laurita married Claude Hill, son of John Wilbur Hill and Julia Oatman of Benton, Illinois. They settled into a home at 953 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., where they lived for decades. They had no children, but were close with the extended Smith family and Laurita's brother Glenn's seven children. I have a couple of letters written from Laurita to my grandmother, the wife of Laurita's nephew, all signed "Aunt Laurita."

The Smith family came together for holidays and important occasions. In 1940, Walter and Julia Smith celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. A family party was held in Los Angeles. The photo below was taken that night, and includes Walter and Julia, their children Glenn and Laurita, and all seven of their grandchildren, plus assorted spouses.


Top (L-R): Virginia Smith Ross, Glenn Murray Smith, Genevieve Murray Smith, William B. Ross, Patricia Smith Quinlan, Claude Hill, Joan Smith McDonald

On Sofa (L-R): Glenn Alvin Smith, Julia Bigham Smith, Walter Samuel Smith, Laurita Smith Hill

On Floor (L-R): Kevin Smith, Shirley Smith Connely

Walter lived to a very old age. His wife, Julia, died in 1958 at the age of 89. Two years later, Walter lost his only son, Glenn Alvin Smith, who was 69. Walter lived two more years, dying on January 20, 1962, at the age of 92. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, alongside his wife, Julia.






Thursday, March 29, 2018

Glenn Alvin Smith and the Winemaking Years

Glenn Alvin Smith in his office

In my last two posts, I've quoted from my great-uncle William B. Ross' recollections of his in-laws, Glenn Alvin Smith and Genevieve Murray Smith. Glenn Alvin was an inventive and successful entrepreneur, who had already founded and closed two lucrative ventures, in wholesale jewelry and in oil exports to China. When those businesses lost their momentum, Glenn pivoted to a new endeavor. World War II was on the horizon, and this presented new challenges and opportunities. Here, I will continue to quote from the notes written by Bill Ross.

World War II broke out in 1939 in Europe, shipping lanes were in peril, and soon any remaining oil exporting ceased. So, Glenn was looking around for something new and this is how he became a success in the wine and brandy business. You might say he was just lucky in getting started, but he took full advantage of the opportunity.
Prohibition ended in the United States in December 1933. By 1939, Europe was sputtering into war and France was unable to ship its fine wines into the profitable American market. California wines were grown in the Napa-Sonoma region north of San Francisco, but were unknown nationally. The Cucamonga area east of Los Angeles was the other wine producer, but of lesser quality except for fortified wines and brandy. Dad Smith heard about the fine Chilean wine which could be imported via open sea lanes on the west coast and thought there was an opportunity. France and Italy, Spain and Portugal couldn't deliver and imported wines were preferred by the haute cuisine trade and in homes of the rich and famous. 
First, Dad found contacts in Chile who put him in touch with vintners and he began testing and tasting samples. He did a lot of reading on what made good table wines, and then began to blend various Chilean wines. To my uneducated taste, he put together some good mixtures and then put his own labels on them. I don't know where he found his distribution outlets but he began to sell some. This led him to buying a good supply of Chilean wines and putting them into a bonded warehouse. A bonded warehouse was one in which you could pay no liquor tax until you took the product out of bond. In other words, the alcohol tax people had the key and you didn't get product until you paid the tax on what was withdrawn for sale. So there he was, sitting on a big stock of Chilean wines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And because the U.S. Armed Forces needed alcohol for war purposes, the price of all alcoholic beverages soared... the good, the bad and the indifferent... and Glenn's stuff was good.
I will never forget December 7, 1941, the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would "live in infamy." It was a day that would revive Glenn Smith's bankroll and give birth to the Del Norte brand of wines and a cognac-type brandy whose formula he himself perfected. But back to the "infamy/prosperity" day. Virginia and I took a drive into the San Fernando Valley that December 7. At 1 PM that day, when it was 10 AM in Honolulu, I turned on the car radio and heard all about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We rushed back to our home in View Heights, but stopped by Virginia's parents' home on the way. Dad Smith was in the kitchen pouring wine from a big bottle into a little one-- still working on his own wine blending. We told him about the bombing. He said that was ridiculous -- probably another Orson Welles radio play. We said that the White House had issued a statement. He said it was another Roosevelt trick. We went home, leaving him still unconvinced. Remember, we had no TV set to turn on and see the pictures of battleships and harbors and aircraft facilities in flames. Maybe Dad Smith went to be that night not realizing that a new business career for him was launched that day.
Del Norte was on its way, but Glenn Smith knew he couldn't depend upon Chilean suppliers alone. He quickly bought the Santa Nella vineyard and bottling house near Guerneville in Sonoma County from an Italian named Mario Barsotti1. Later, he leased the Cherpin Vineyards near Etiwanda in the Cucamonga region, and ultimately bought a warehouse on a railroad signing in nearby Alta Loma and installed a rectifying plant (type of distillery) to convert grape alcohol into his excellent Del Norte brandy.

The house on the property of the Santa Nella vineyard, now a bed & breakfast.

Dad Smith's son, Glenn Murray Smith, was an invaluable aid in those days. He and his wife LaVerne lived in a lovely home owned by the winery on the south bank of the Russian River-- complete with sandy beach and a dam downstream which created a swimming hold in front of the sandy beach and a dam downstream which created a swimming hole in front of the sandy beach. A good living, but plenty of work keeping up production with aging and somewhat obsolete equipment and a wartime shortage of labor. When the rectifying plant went into production, Glenn Murray was called from the idyllic life to manage brandy production at Alta Loma and live in Pomona. Son-in-law, Frank W. Doherty, handled all the legal contract problems and mandatory reports. My agency did magazine advertising, label and point-of-purchase design, publicity articles and promotional pieces. Working for Del Norte and Dad Smith guaranteed a wonderful "perk"-- a ready supply of good brandy and fine red and white wines. Scotch was unavailable, but brand and soda or water made a good substitute. 
In the Del Norte years, the producers of good California wines who guided the industry and won nation and international awards could be counted on the fingers of your hand -- possibly on the hands of a four-finger man. Herman Wente was the acknowledged leader in white wines and Louis Martini for reds. Add in Korbel, Beringer, Beaulieu, Christian Brothers-- that's all I can remember. But the important thing is that Glenn Smith became good friends of these people-- buying their grapes to blend with his wine, gathering information and supporting the concept of naming wines after the dominant variety rather than the old world practice of naming wines by regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. His distinctive Del Norte Brandy couldn't be called cognac, because cognac is a region in France. But Dad Smith got around that with his advertising slogan: "Sip it slowly, the Cognac way." Hey, it was good stuff and carried in the better liquor stores. 
The war rolled on to its atomic-capped conclusion in August of 1945 and that capped the rise and led to the end of the Del Norte years. The big distillers moved into brandy production. Big advertising budgets soon dominated the wine markets, profit margins narrowed, and Glenn Smith withdrew from the market. He sold the Sonoma County vineyard at a handsome profit, I presume, for good wine properties were in short supply. He dropped his lease on the Cucamonga acreage and closed the Alta Loma plant. It had been a great ride, but it was over in his eyes. It is my opinion that Glenn Smith was an entrepreneur and not a marketer. He was a genius at searching and finding an import-export niche that yielded big bucks, and when it became too competitive he moved on to the next opportunity.

This part of Glenn Alvin Smith's story is particularly meaningful to me, as I now live not far from Santa Nella Bed & Breakfast, formerly my family's winery. I've taken my children there, and we've walked around the property and admired the vines growing on the adjacent hills, which are now the property of Korbel. While Glenn Alvin may have gotten into wine and liquor production strictly for the profit, it sparked a love of wine in some of our family members that continues today. I remember, as a preteen, my grandfather, Glenn Murray Smith, telling me how to read a wine label properly. It was years before I would need to use that skill, but it was a moment that is still special to me. My grandmother, Glenn Alvin's daughter-in-law, always told me that her years living in Forestville, while she and Glenn Murray tended to the Santa Nella vineyard, were some of the happiest of her life. She adored the big dinners with the local Italian families, and the beauty of their property on the Russian River. I loved sitting with her while she described that time, and watching her face light up with those happy memories.

I'm very thankful to my great-uncle Bill Ross for having written down these recollections of my great-grandparents. It's the best account we have of Glenn Alvin Smith's career and personality. In just ten pages, Bill helped pass on wonderful memories that my family will always treasure. It's another great reminder that writing about your ancestors is so important.

1 Mario Barsotti was born in 1878 in Italy. He arrived in California about 1909, where he established himself in the wine industry in Sonoma County. He is not to be confused with the Mario Barsotti who was a judge in San Francisco in the mid-1900s. Described at the time of his death in 1967 as a "retired winery operator and grocer," Mario sold the Santa Nella Winery to my great-grandfather, and then moved to San Rafael, where his lived in his later years.