A Fireman’s Story: My great-grandfather

William D Swanson 001

This is my favorite picture of my great-grandfather, William Domman Swanson!  He was the father of my grandmother, Cammie Swanson Lyons, my dad’s mother.  (See last weeks blog!)  While browsing through Lynchburg, Virginia census records, I found his 1910 Census listing his occupation as a fireman and I thought, now there may be a story and what a story it turned out to be!  In the above picture, he appears to be in uniform with an insignia so I am guessing the picture is from about 1906-7 when he first joined the Lynchburg Fire Department.

William was the son of John A. B. Swanson, a Confederate Civil War veteran and Mary Frances Burks.  He was born 22 May of 1862, the second year of the war and was the second of 13 children in the family.  The family lived in Amherst County, Virginia in a little town of Cool Well.

He married Cora Virginia Phillips in 1884 when he was just 21 and she was 17 and they had 11 children that I know of.   They moved around a lot, mostly in the Lynchburg, Virginia area and Amherst County.  Cora and her sisters and daughters were midwives and “healers”, attending to the sick with natural herbs and such.  It is said that the Swanson and Phillips families were German, Dutch and Irish with the “healing” side coming in through the Irish!

Cora Phillips Swanson 001Cora Virginia Phillips Swanson (1867-1945)

William did a lot of different jobs while raising the family and in 1900, he was working as an iron worker.  However, the family settled for good in Lynchburg in 1906 and on the 15th of March, 1906, William became a fireman with the Lynchburg Fire Department, working out of fire station #3.  They bought a home just down the street from the fire station.   William even had a gong in his home that sounded off whenever the fire alarm went off at the station.  That way, he could jump into his suit and run out to the street to catch the fire truck as it went by his house on the way to the fire!  I really think he loved the new career and was very dedicated as he stayed with the department until his death.

William had several narrow escapes from death during his fire-fighting career.  He was suffocated twice by smoke, doctors giving up hope for his life after the Academy of Music fire in Lynchburg.  He was also suffocated when the Southern railway tunnel in Rivermont burned and caved in.  But he persevered.

On September 28, 1926, his luck ran out.  Tragedy struck!  William died as the result of a tragic accident while on duty as a fireman.  I actually found the original newspaper stories recounting his accident.  It seems, William was eating dinner at his home when a fire alarm came in to headquarters and rang the gong in his home.  He jumped up from the table thinking he could catch one of the wagons as it passed his house on the corner of Pearl and Main streets.   It was a misty, rainy night and it was difficult to see.  As William searched for the lights of the fire wagon, he was almost blinded by the lights of what he thought was the fire wagon.  Quickly he stepped out to slow the wagon down to jump aboard but it wasn’t the lights of the wagon – it was the fire chief’s car!  The car only had about 10 feet to brake upon seeing William but the car skidded in a wide arc  and struck and swept William to one side while landing on the other side of the street.  William’s injuries were serious including a broken leg, several broken ribs, internal injuries and punctured lung and he was taken to the Lynchburg Hospital when he passed away 4 hours later.

The Lynchburg News reported the next day: “The call of duty, to which he had always responded, cost the life of William D. Swanson,  64-year-old veteran fireman last night when he was struck by the fire chief’s car near his home at about 7 o’clock.   The fire chief stated,  I do not believe he saw my car…as he had his eyes on one of the trucks behind me.”  The Captain stated that William’s service with the department had been “A-No-1.  He was a good man all of the way through.”  The article ends with this:  “The firemen at station No. 3 to which Mr. Swanson was attached and where he was held in unusually high esteem by his fellow workers, were this afternoon engaged in draping the front of the station with mourning.”   A touching tribute to my great-grandfather.

Swanson_William-150x212  William Swanson, “Lynchburg Fallen Firefighters” photo gallery

The City of Lynchburg erected a memorial for their firefighters killed in the line of duty in Miller Park  in 1995 and William’s name is engraved on the memorial statue.

Firefighters Memorial, Lynchburg 001

Firefighters memorial Lynchburg 2 001

William was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg on  October 1, 1926.  His beloved wife, Cora, joined him in 1945.  Although I live in Wisconsin, someday I want to make the trip to visit not only their graves but also to see the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.   His story touches my heart and inspires me to keep searching for the stories of our heritage to better understand where we came from!

grave markers of William and Cora Swanson 001

If any relative would like a copy of William and Cora’s more detailed family history, just contact me!  I am always happy to share my research!


A Dinner Guest! by Marilyn Lyons Pawlak


Grandma Lyons with Art 1945 001

Cammie Lyons in 1945 holding grandson Arthur Lyons, son of LaFon Lyons.

This weeks prompt for #52Ancestors in 52 weeks in “invite to dinner.”  I have so many ancestors that I would like to invite that I would be having dinner parties all year!  However, today I would like to invite my father’s mother, my dear grandmother, Cammie Lyster Swanson Lyons.  In a previous blog, I posted a picture of her with her family, minus my grandfather Clarence, who died in 1939 at age 48.  I have so many questions about the family history and what was it like when she grew up.  I would probably wear her out with all my thoughts and questions!  However, just by doing my research, I know more about her than I did before and I have tried to imagine what her life might have been like.

My grandmother died when I was a senior in high school in 1964, just 2 months before my graduation.  She lived so very far away that I did not get to see her much in my growing years.  It was pretty long between Bessemer in Upper Michigan to Mount Clemens, north of Detroit in Lower Michigan!  I will pose some questions I would have asked her if I could and try to answer them using what I have found.

Grandma, who were your mom and dad?

Grandma: My mom was Cora Virginia Phillips who was born in Amherst, Virginia in 1867 and she was the daughter of Oscar Fitzallen Phillips and Nancy Jane Burch.  The Burch family has a very long lineage in America and Europe.  My dad was William Domman Swanson, the son of John A B Swanson and Mary Frances Burks – My grandfather John served as a Confederate Soldier in the Civil War.  Around 1870, my family lived in Peddler Township in Amherst County, Virginia.  I was born on January 28, 1893 and was lived in Lynchburg, Virginia at that time.

Grandma, what was it like growing up?

Grandma: It was busy!  I was the 5th of 11 children!  I had 2 older sisters, Pearlie May and Gertrude and an older brother Bernard.  My other older brother, Vernon Edward, died as an infant in 1891.  Actually, a younger brother, Roy, died as an infant when I was about 2 years old.  But more children were to come – brothers Corry Dorman in 1896 and Ralph McWayne in 1900.  Ralph was born on my birthday exactly 7 years later!  In 1902, I finally got some younger sisters to play with and help take care of – Virginia McKinley in 1902 and Ruby Roosevelt in 1904.  In 1906, another brother, James William was born and, sadly, he was always sickly.  They said he had marasmus where his body couldn’t take up energy from food and causes malnutrition.  Mom and Dad took him to a doctor in Reading, PA but poor James died at 4 months and 9 days old.  It was sad for the whole family.  We made do the best we could.  My dad worked in a Rolling Mill at one time but before 1910, he became a fireman with the City of Lynchburg.  My mom and her sisters and older daughters were midwives and healers.  They helped others and knew a lot about herbs and remedies.  So we had a lot of people coming to them for help.  In 1908, my older sister Pearlie May went off to North Carolina with Oscar S Phillips and got married.  (Oscar was a distant cousin to my grandfather.)  In 1909, my sister Gertrude married Preston Holloran.  In 1910, Gertrude and Preston and their baby, Mildred moved in with us.  Gertrude was ill and she died of Tuberculosis in 1912 when Mildred was only 2.  It was so very sad to lose our sister and TB is such a horrible disease.

Grandma, when did you get married to Grampa Clarence?

Grandma:  We got married on March 5, 1913 in Lynchburg.  I was 20 years old and Clarence was 22.  Clarence was born in Smyth Co. Virginia and his parents were George Lyons and Susanna Virginia Ashlin.  Clarence was a carpenter and we lived at 100 Withers Street in Lynchburg.  But then we soon moved to Sugar Grove, Virginia where our first son, William Lilburn (Bill) was born in January of 1914.  Then, Eddie (Edward McWayne) was born in 1915 when I was 23.

Grandma, when was my dad born?

Grandma:  Well, let’s see.  It was August 30 of 1917 and we had moved back to Lynchburg by then.  Grampa Clarence registered for the WWI draft just before LaFon Camlyn, your dad, was born.  We lived at 410 Bay Street in Lynchburg and grampa was a carpenter for Jno P Pettyjohn & Co in Lynchburg.

What did Grampa look like and what did he do?

Grandma:  Well, he was tall and slender and had gray eyes and brown hair.  And– he was a very good carpenter.  He moved us to 2305 Judith Street in the Brookville District of West Lynchburg after your dad was born and got a job as a house carpenter.  Later we moved again to 602 Richmond Ave in Lynchburg in 1921.  We rented and found it hard to buy a house.

How did you end up in Michigan?

Grandma: We had another baby in 1922–Dreama June was born on Valentine’s Day! I was 29 years old.  She was born in Lynchburg but then we went back to Sugar Grove to work and live on a large sugar cane and tobacco farm.  It may have been once owned by Clarence’s grandfather (Columbus Ashlin) and now by his son, Sammy.  Times were hard but we were with family-Clarence’s brother James and sister Mary Ann and their families.  When June was but a year old in 1923, we decided with the family to all move to Detroit because there were a lot of jobs available in the auto industry.  So, with the families of James and Mary Ann and us, we all moved.  We found a place to rent and grampa got a job working at the Packard Motor Company in Detroit.  He was a good mechanic and carpenter and even worked for the railroad at a time.  Things were looking up for us.  Our family was growing up.

My dad talked about a sister Rosemary, what happened to her?

Grandma: In 1928, Rosemary was born prematurely at St. Mary’s hospital in Detroit.  I was 35 when that happened.  Only 2 days after that, my own father, William Swanson was killed in Lynchburg in a tragic accident.  Remember he was a fireman and he lived near the fire station. He had a fire alarm in his house and when it rang, he would go out front and the fire truck would pick him up on the way to the fire.  Well, this was a rainy night with poor visibility and as he was waiting for the fire truck to pick him up, the fire chief’s car came first, didn’t see him, and accidentally struck him.  He was taken to the hospital but died from multiple injuries.  I know they erected a memorial in Lynchburg park to honor fallen firefighters and his name is on it – I would like to see that.

How did you manage during the Great Depression?

Grandma: By 1930, we had bought a home at 357 St Aubins St in Detroit.  Grampa Clarence was working as a mechanic in a Aeroplane Manufacturing place.  We owned the home and even had a radio.  But Grampa was not real well and couldn’t work full time.  We found out later that he had tuberculosis.  The boys helped out with jobs they could do so we could get by.  In 1931, your Aunt Coralie, our last child, was born.  We had a close relationship with Grampa’s brother and sister and the family stuck together.  Grampa and the boys even helped build a house for his sister Mary Ann and her husband Ed Bruehl.  Ed and Grampa even started building an airplane at Ed’s place but it was never finished as, you know, Grampa died in 1939 of tuberculosis.  It was hard times for us.  After Clarence died, we moved to Moravian Drois and Louis Place in Clinton Township outside Detroit  and Eddie worked in a factory and your dad drove truck for the CCC’s.  Bill had married Dorothy by now.    Later, I did work taking care of an older couple and other caregiver jobs, but eventually, as you know, I moved in with Coralie and her family and lived with them.  Some summers, I would come up to Upper Michigan and stay with you and your family in Bessemer.

Grandma, you know I have so many more questions but we will save them for another visit!  Love you so much!

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Cammie Lyster Lyons in 1956, Christmas, at the home of LaFon Lyons.

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Grandma Cammie Lyons holding grandson John Frank Lyons, 1957, son of Bill Lyons.

grandma Lyons grave marker 001

Sources for this history are available upon request.  Please send request in comments section.  Copies of the history of Clarence and Cammie that I have written are available to any relatives who ask for them.  I am happy to share!   Marilyn Pawlak

Longevity? Not!

I joined a genealogy challenge to post something about 52 ancestors in 52 weeks with genealogist Amy Johnson Crow.  Her prompts help to inspire us and this weeks prompt was longevity!  As I have been researching my father’s family, I found out that there really isn’t a lot of longevity and as a matter of fact, there was more tragedy in that family than would seem to be for a normal family!  So this week, I am going to reveal some of the misfortunes that plagued the family.  Longevity did not run in this family!  Before I forget, I also want to post an ancestry chart that may be helpful to refer to in the upcoming weeks and give you a sense of who we are related to and how.  This chart is for my father’s (LaFon Lyons) family.

Ancestry chart for LaFon Lyons 001

Clarence Lyons, my grandfather, passed away at age 48 years in the Herman Keifer Hospital in Detroit, Michigan on 24 May 1939.  Cause of death was pulmonary Tuerculosis (3C, unfavorable) that he struggled with for 3 years and contributory cause was heart failure.  His wife, Cammie, not only lost her husband that year but one of her brothers died in July also.  It seems some years were very hard on the family.  Take 1928 for example, on Sep 26 of that year, Clarence and Cammie lost a baby named Rosemary and 2 days later, Cammie’s father, who was a fireman in Lynchburg, Virginia, was killed  after being struck accidentally by the fire chief’s car. (More on that story later)

LaFon’s oldest brother, my Uncle Bill, graduated from high school in Detroit and later graduated from a course in Mortuary Science and worked for Grosbeck Funeral home for 15 years.  He was also in the National Guard and in WWII served in the 182nd Field Artillery and 107th Observation Squadron.  In 1936, Bill married his first wife, Dorothy Bates and in 1937, their first son, William Lyons Jr was born.  The next year, Corry Clarence Lyons was born but died at 5 months old due to broncho-pneumonia and upper respiratory infection.  Then in 1939 of Nov, their 3rd son was born, Daniel McWayne Lyons.  Now more tragedy was in store for the family.

On May 10 of 1943, the body of Dannie Lyons, 3 years old, who had disappeared from his home in Mount Clemens, MI, was recovered from the Clinton River at Mt. Clemens.  The child’s body was discovered by two boys gathering driftwood along the river bank.  It was ruled a homicide as the child was forcibly drowned.  Dannie Lyons disappeared while his mother was shopping in a store below the family’s apartment.  Mrs. Lyons told officers a former woman roomer had threatened “to get even” because she had caused her arrest in connection with the theft of a coat.   A woman was arrested and held but later released and the case was never solved.

Bill and Dorothy had 2 more children, Gregory LaFon  and Susanne Adele but their marriage suffered and they divorced in 1947.  Oddly, Bill married Marion Norman Ashlin in 1949 who was divorced from Bill’s cousin, Robert C Ashlin.  As a matter of fact, Robert and Marion were the witnesses for Bill and Dorothy’s marriage!  Robert was the son of Samuel Ashlin who was a son of Columbus Ashlin – see past blogs about Columbus. Robert and Marion had tragedies in their marriage also!  Of their 5 children, they lost 2 – Leona Marion Ashlin died in infancy in 1932 and Robert L Ashlin  died at not quite 3 years old due to shock following trauma of being struck by an automobile! in 1939.

Bill did marry Marion and eventually they moved to Ironwood, MI and had 4 children – Ruth Jean Lyons Glickert, Marion (Penny) Lyons Waurio, Virginia Lyons and John Frank Lyons.  However, the misfortunes did not end as John Frank Lyons’s had a son Johnny Floyd Lyons who was killed when hit by a car while riding his bike at age 11!

LaFon’s other brother, Edwin McWayne Lyons was between Bill and LaFon in age.  Both Ed and LaFon had to quit high school when their father died and go to work to help support the family.  Bill was already married.  I know that LaFon was a truck driver and Ed worked in an auto factory as a paint sprayer according to the 1940 census.   In 1941, Ed married Lucille Kendrick in New Haven, MI.  He was 26 and Lucille was 20.  Her mother had died young at age 23.  Lucille was partially crippled and advised not to get pregnant but she did.  She died in childbirth along with her baby in 1942 at age 21.

Before my Aunt Coralie passed away, I had conversations with her about the family – she was the youngest sister of my dad, Bill and Ed.  Her story about Ed went something like this.  After his wife and child died, Ed didn’t care much for anything.  He was drafted into the army and had a date to report for duty.  On Sunday, the day before he was entering the service, he drove his motorcycle up to New Haven to say goodby to Lucille’s father and step-mother.  Ed had a very serious accident when he hit a loading dock with his motorcycle and broke many bones and had many injuries including a crushed chest.  It seemed he was dying so Grosbeck funeral home was sent for to pick up the body.  Grosbeck sent Ed’s brother, Bill (who worked for Grosbeck at the time), up with the wagon to pick up bodies–not knowing that the almost dead man turned out to be his own brother!  What a shock for Bill that must have been! Ed was sent to the hospital instead!  Ed was in the hospital for many months and it was over a year before he could walk again.   The doctor that treated him didn’t sign the release papers for the army because the doctor himself was drafted.  So Ed was listed as AWOL and it took months for Ed’s mother, Cammie, to straighten things out with the army!  Ed contracted tuberculosis and spent years in sanitariums for treatment.  He passed away in 1962 at age 46.  He was my favorite uncle and we corresponded back and forth by letter although I only got to meet him several times, I really loved him.

Uncle Eddy and I 1957 001

This is Uncle Ed and I in the 50’s.  It was taken on a family trip to Mount Clemens (Near Detroit).  We lived way at the western end of Upper Michigan and had to cross the Straits of Mackinaw by ferry back then before the Mackinaw Bridge was built.

In 1964, both my grandmother Cammie and my Uncle Bill passed away within a couple months of each other.  My uncle was just 50 years old and died of heart failure and advanced diabetes.  I was one of the last people to see him before he passed.

As I was doing more research, I found more misfortunes in my grandmother’s family.  She had a sister Gertrude who died of TB as age 23 leaving  behind an infant daughter.  Also 3, possibly 4, of her brothers died as infants.   My Grandfather’s sister, Mary Ann, and her husband Edward Bruehl, also lived in the Detroit area.  They adopted two daughters, Grace and Hope.  Sadly, Hope Mary Bruehl, died at age 10 due to a crushed chest and internal injuries to her heart and lungs when she was run over by a truck.

It really does seem to be an abnormal amount of tragedy in the Lyons family in the past.  I think it is important to share their stories which is one reason I had developed this interest in discovering the family history.  A few family stories spurred me to research more and more and start writing the family histories.  There is so much more to come so stay tuned each week!

The Lyons in Michigan

LaFon, brothers and sisters and mother 001
William (Bill), Cammie, LaFon, Eddie, Coralie (left) and Dreama June

This is a picture of my dad, LaFon Lyons, with his family.  I was extremely lucky to know all of them!  Judging by the ages, I think this picture was taken in the late 1940s in Mount Clemens, Michigan.   This is one of my favorite pictures because it is so rare in our family!  You see, my grandmother (above) had stored all her photos and other things in a friend’s garage when she had to move probably after her husband died in 1939.  When she went to retrieve her possessions a few years later because her friends were moving, alas!  all the photos were ruined, nothing was salvageable!  I have never yet seen a picture of my grandfather, Clarence Lyons, but I was so happy to know my uncles and aunts.  By the way, I do have the original photo of this one and just a few others.

Clarence Edward Lyons, my grandfather, was born in Sugar Grove, Virginia 06 Nov 1891.  He was the third and last child of George Edward Lyons and Susan Virginia Ashlin.  Remember Columbus Ashlin and Mary Ann James from last week’s blog?  Well, they were Susan Virginia’s parents!  Clarence had an older brother named James Columbus Lyon and an older sister Mary Ann Lyon, both born in Sugar Grove.  You will notice that some relatives use Lyon and some use Lyons.  I have found both spellings throughout my research!   Clarence’s parents were married about 8-10 years separating somewhere in the early 1890’s and records were found on George living in Letcher County, Kentucky married to Susan Holcomb.  George was a deputy sheriff and died in Upper Poorfork, Harlan, KY in 1920.  But let’s get back to Clarence.  He and his siblings and mother moved in with grampa Columbus Ashlin and lived on the big farm.  Some where around 1905 or so, Susan Virginia and Clarence move to Lynchburg, Virginia as Columbus had died and his siblings moved out.

In 1913, Clarence married Cammie Lyster Swanson in Lynchburg, Virginia – my grandmother in the picture! Clarence was 21 and Cammie was 20.  She was the daughter of William Domman Swanson and Cora Virginia Phillips and was one of 11 children. Future blogs will delve into her interesting family story!  Clarence and Cammie had 6 children and 5 are in the photo.  (They lost a daughter, Rosemary, to a late miscarriage in 1928.)  In 1913, they lived  at 100 Withers, Lynchburg City and Clarence was a carpenter. At sometime, they moved to Sugar Grove VA because their first 2 children were born there- William Lilburn Lyons in 1914 and Edward (or Edwin) McWayne Lyons in 1915.  By 1917, they were back in Lynchburg and my father, LaFon Camlyn Lyons was born that year.  That year, Clarence had to register for the WWI draft and the draft card described him as tall and slender with gray eyes and brown hair.  He was working as a carpenter at Jno P Pettyjohn & Co, Lynchburg.

I always wondered where my dad’s name came from – I mean LaFon is not an ordinary name!  Actually he was named Camlyn LaFon but always used LaFon as his first name.  I do think I solved the mystery. The name LaFon probably came from a relative named Randolph Lafon Huff.  A family story handed down claims the name LaFon was taken from the name of a neighbor and good friend.  This can be true as Randolph Lafon Huff was born in 1916, the year before my dad and they lived in Sugar Grove near the Lyons family and were actually cousins through marriage!

Everyone in the family was working on a large tobacco and sugar cane plantation – possibly the large farm owned by Columbus Ashlin.  At least this was a family story I heard growing up.

On Valentine’s Day, 1922, Dreama June Lyons was born in Lynchburg.  When Dreama was about 1 year old, Clarence and Cammie packed up their whole family and moved to Detroit Michigan to find work in the auto industry.  Along with them came Clarence’s brother James and his wife Lillie and daughter  Savannah AND Clarence’s sister Mary Ann and her husband, Edward Bruehl.  Later came their Uncle Sammy and his family. (Sammy was Columbus’s son) and finally, Clarence’s mother, Susan Virginia.  It must have been like a mass migration!  Clarence got a job with the Packard Motor Company in Detroit.  In 1930, the family lived at357 St. Aubins Street in the 9th ward of Detroit and Clarence worked as a mechanic in  Aeroplane Manufacturing, he owned his own home and a radio but did not work full time because of ill health.

In 1931, Aug. 22, their last child, Coralie Jean Lyons was born in Detroit.  Dreama June contracted mastoiditis as a child and lost part of her hearing and needed surgeries.  My aunt June (we always called her June) wore hearing aids all her life.  On May 24th, 1939, Clarence passed away from pulmonary tuberculosis and heart failure.  He is buried in the Oakland Hills Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Novi, Michigan.  Cammie was widowed at age 46.  LaFon and Eddie both had to quit high school to work and support the family. LaFon was a truck driver and Eddie worked as a paint sprayer in an auto factory. Bill was already married.   Cammie worked taking care of an elderly couple.  Coralie was only 7 when her father died.   Coralie told me stories about her dad.  He was very intelligent and was a mechanic, carpenter and worked on the railroad for a time.  He and his sons helped build a house for his sister and husband Ed Bruehl.  He and Ed started building an airplane at Ed’s house.  They finished the fuselage and started on the wings when Clarence became ill with TB.  The plane was never finished and sat next to Ed’s garage for years.

I did not get to see my grandmother a lot as she eventually lived with Coralie and her family in Mount Clemens, lower MI, and we lived way on the western end of Upper MI in Bessemer.  When I was young, we had to take the ferry across the Mackinaw Straits to get to lower Michigan (before the Mackinaw Bridge was built) and we couldn’t visit that often.  However, on some summers, my grandmother Cammie would come to live with us for awhile and she made sure we all went to the Baptist church in Ironwood with her!  I remember her as having long hair she would brush out at night and wear in a net during the day.  She was always so kind and loving to us but always  had an air of sadness about her.

My Uncle Bill, I knew the best because he moved with his family up by us when I was about 9 or 10.  He lived on a farm in south Bessemer and I spent a few summers living with them and taking care of his 4 youngest children while he and my Aunt Marion worked.  He has a long story that I have discovered and will save it for another blog.  My Uncle Eddie was always my favorite and he has a story that I would like to share also in another blog!

Now you have an introduction to the Clarence and Cammie Lyons family.  They are all dear to me because I knew them as I was growing up.  Of course, my dad had the most special place in my heart and I miss him greatly.  More on his story will be coming, too!









First blog post

Welcome to my blog!  I am a beginning blogger so bear with me!

I plan to share some of the more interesting finds in my genealogy research.  All my research and work does no good sitting in my file cabinets and in piles on my desk just keeping it to myself!  This way, you too, can learn our family’s history along with me!  I plan to share something new each week for 52 weeks about 52 ancestors!  This site is mainly for sharing with my children and grandchildren and other family members but who knows – maybe we will find new cousins or other relatives!

This week I was working on the family history of Columbus Perry Ashlin (1830-1902) and Mary Ann James (1838-1921).  So who are they?  Well their daughter was Susanna Virginia Ashlin who married George Lyons and their son was Clarence Lyons.  Now Clarence was the father of LaFon Lyons and you know who he was!  So Columbus is my 2nd great-grandfather or “2gg”!    Well Columbus and Mary Ann were born in Sugar Grove, Smyth County Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains of western VA.

His parents, Chesley (1796-1876) and Phoebe Byrd James Ashlin (1797-1877) were slave owners on a large plantation.  As a matter of fact, in 1860, Chesley owned 16 slaves and the value of his real estate was $3000 which would be about $80,000 today.  But, get this, the value of his personal estate which includes the value of slaves in 1860 was $11,000 which would be close to $400,000 today!  After the Civil War and the slaved were freed this dropped to $550 which was about $9000 today.  The war had to have been devastating to their way of life – truly life changing!

Mary Ann James Ashlin’s parents had some problems too.  Her father, Thompson James died at age 40 in 1838 of “consumption”, the old term for tuberculosis.  This left his wife Susannah Porter James as a single parent and not only did she lose her husband that year in December, she also had a baby girl in January that died in September, just 3 months before her husband!

Here’s a historical note:  in the wee hours of August 21, 1831, Nat Turner and a small army of fellow slaves rose up against their owners in the bloodiest slave rebellion in U.S. history.  Columbus was only 1-year-old but his older sister, Lucy Ann, lived in Southampton County where there were forces of slaves bent on killing slave owners and families.  It must have been a frightening time for the Ashlins!

I did find a grave marker for Lucy Ann Ashlin Grosclose and the memorial states she “died of tuberculosis and a broken heart due to John’s drinking.”

Columbus was 30 when the Civil War broke out.  He was a “citizen supporter” of the Confederacy.  The Confederate States Nitre Service paid him $27.50  in 1862 “For 11 days service of two horse teams” for “hauling Nitre Earth”   Nitre Earth was used in making explosives to blow up bridges, etc.  Columbus’ brother, James Hartwell Ashlin was a private in the Confederate Army, 48th regiment, Virginia Infantry, Co. D.   His other brother, German Baker Ashlin served in Co A, 8th Virginia Cavalry.   German’s pension application gives details:  he was wounded in a charge on Sheridan’s Cavalry 3 miles east of Woodstock, Virginia on the 8th day of October, 1864.  He was disabled by “a bullet wound entering his right arm immediately below the shoulder joint and passing out near to spine on right side of spinal column which now has impaired the use of the arm to the extent that I am unable to grasp and use any implements…and also the lung is damaged to the extent that I am not able to exercise freely…”    There is evidence that German also sold corn and hay to the Confederates for the horses.  German never married and died suddenly, cause unknown in 1915 in St Clair, Smyth Co. VA.

Columbus named one son after his brother.  William German Ashlin  was born in 1862.  He is notable because he provided yet another link to the Lyons family by marrying Willie Anna Lyons, sister of George Lyons ( my great-grandfather).  George Lyons married my great-grandmother, Susanna Virginia Ashlin.  So a brother and sister of the Ashlins married a brother and sister of the Lyons’!

Let’s look at some of the interesting children of Willie Anna and William German Ashlin (They later lived in West Virginia).    Floyd Campbell Ashlin served time in the Moundsville, West Virginia, State Penitentiary in 1930.  Garland Ashlin was a coal miner.  Lewis Evert Ashlin was a Veteran of WWI and was gassed in war and was in ill-health since his discharge and died of TB at age 54 leaving 4 sons.  Beryl Dewey Ashlin died of “cerebral laceration and hemorrhage due to gunshot wound at age 47.  His occupation at the time was taxi driver.  Now there has to be a story there and I will have to try to investigate!

Columbus and Mary Ann Ashlin had one son that died at 11 months and 2 more children, a son and a daughter that died in infancy.

Here’s a twist.  Columbus had a son in 1875 named Samuel Mitchell Ashlin (Sammy).  Sammy is another link to the Lyons because his son, Robert C Ashlin, married and later divorced Marion Norman.  Marion later married my father’s brother, William (my uncle Bill), Robert’s first cousin!  Here is another twist.  When Robert and Marion were married, they were the witnesses at the marriage of my Uncle Bill and his first wife, Dorothy Bates!  Sammy moved his family to lower Michigan from Virginia when my dad’s family moved to Detroit in about 1923 to get work in the Auto industry.

Columbus’s last son was Waddy Thompson Ashlin who was a twin to Wesley.  Wesley died and Waddy survived.  Waddy’s first wife died leaving 2 children and the oldest son, Chesley Harry Ashlin burned to death in a house fire in Goodwill, WV at age 54.   Waddy had 6 more children with his second wife.

Columbus and Mary Ann had 11 known children during their marriage with 7 surviving and 4 dying young.  He died at age 71 in 1902 and Mary Ann died in 1921 at age 83.  They are buried in the Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery in Sugar Grove, Virginia.  Columbus’ parents, Chesley and Phoebe are also buried there.

I have 10 pages written on the Ashlin and Shepherd family history and will share more tidbits in my  next post.