John A B Swanson and Mary Frances Burks: 2nd Great-Grandparents

This week’s prompt is supposed to be about a “maiden aunt” but since I haven’t come across one in my research yet, I choose to share some of what I have found about John A B Swanson and Mary Frances Burks.  Wondering who they are?  They are my 2nd great-grandparents, being the parents of William Domman Swanson, my great grandfather on my father’s side.    I wrote the story of William Swanson in a recent blog entitled “A Fireman’s Story: My great-grandfather”  ”  So perhaps you would like to review the story of William, also.  See it here:A Fireman’s Story: My great-grandfather

J A B Swanson chart 001

I ran into two problems in researching John A B Swanson and Mary Francis Burks.  For one thing, John and Mary are very common first names and Swanson is a very common surname!  I had no idea there were so many “John Swansons” in Virginia!  To complicate things, John A B Swanson’s father was also named John Swanson!   Lucky for me, my John Swanson usually used “John A B” or just “J A B” Swanson so that did help in record searches.  I still have not discovered what the A and the B stand for!  For simplicity, I will just call him John A B!

The  second problem in researching this couple occurs because the 1890 Federal Census records are non-existent, being destroyed in a mysterious fire.  This left a 20 year gap between 1880 and 1900   The children of John A B and Mary were born in the 1860s and 1870s and came of age for marriages around the 1890’s.  It was difficult to find marriage and death records of the children so the information I have is incomplete.

John A B was born in 1834 or 1835 in Amherst County, Virginia, the son of John Swanson and Margaret Gooden.  His parents, John and Margaret, were married on 23 July of 1833 in Rockbridge County VA.  I am fairly certain that John A B’s father was born about 1809 died when he was about 40 years old and before 1850.  In the 1850 census for Amherst County, Virginia, his wife, Margaret, and son, John A B, were living with her mother, Eliza E Gooden, age 62.   John A B is listed as age 15 so he lost his father before he was 15 years old.  Margaret’s father, George Gooden, is also not listed in this 1850 census and presumably has died also.   The two widows and John A B were living with Elisha, Richard and Agnes Gooden which may have been sisters and brothers to Margaret.  This census did not record family relationships.

On the 3rd of December in 1860, John A B Swanson married Mary Frances Burks in Amherst County, Virginia.   John was about 26 years old and Mary was about 20 years old.  Mary Frances was the daughter of George and Margaret D. Burks.  Now what are the odds that the mother of John A B and the mother of Mary were both named Margaret!  This Margaret Burks died about 1891 but her husband, George Burks, died probably before 1880.

Times were trying for the newlyweds as this was the beginning of the Civil War – the war that changed everyone’s life in Virginia in the 1860s.   Their first child was born in 1861, a daughter named Margaret after both their mothers.   Their second child was my great-grandfather, William Domman Swanson born in May of 1862.  A month before William’s birth, John A B enlisted in the 10th Regiment of the Virginia Infantry, Co. C 2, as a private on April 10, 1862.

This Confederate unit was called “The Botetourt Artillery”  and records from the first edition listed John A B Swanson as a member.    In the records I found, he was absent, sick, from May 16, 1862, a month after joining, until September of that year so he may have been home sick at the time of William’s birth.  In October of 1862, he was assigned to the Detailed Nitre Works in Richmond, Virginia.  Nitre was used in making explosives.  Other records listed him as a camp guard, camp of instruction, in Dublin, Virginia in March and October of 1864.  During 1863, he was  with his unit in the Vicksburg Campaign as far as I can determine from his records.

There is a series written about the Botetourt Artillery in which a touching tribute is made to them.  It reads as follows:  “The Botetourt Artillery was the only Virginia Unit to serve during the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign.  While their fellow kinsmen served with glory in the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee at Chancellorsville and charged with Picket at Gettysburg, the Botetourt Artillery fought and died at Port Gibson, Champions Hill and suffered through forty-seven days of siege at Vicksburg…The men never faltered nor complained.  Cramped in narrow trenches, parched by the sun, chilled by the night dews, without covering without food, without rest, without ammunition, without hope, they endured…for forty-seven days and nights they fought until their ammunition was all spent, until starvation was upon them, until all their strength was gone.  They were surrounded and outnumbered, and help was far, far away.  On the Fourth of July the city was surrendered.  These men of the Botetourt Artillery along with other Southern heroes have achieved their everlasting place in history.”

After the Civil War, I found John A B and Mary living on a farm in Peddler Township in Amherst County, VA.  It was 1870 and John was a Iron Worker and 36 years old.  His wife Mary was 30 and they had added to their family.  Margaret was now 9 years old and William was 7.  The other children were Alonzo, age 6, Mary Melissa, age 3 and Ella, age 1.  In 1880, the family was still on the same farm and there were more daughters – Florence, Lula, Mary Melison, Sallie, Minnie, and Cammie J (namesake for my paternal grandmother) and a son, Howard.  Daughter named May was born in 1882.  .  All together John and Mary had 13 known children!

However, the family suffered tragic losses several times.  Their oldest daughter, Margaret , had married James T Martin in 1881 and they had three children – Charles, Maury and Maud Mary Martin.  Sadly, Margaret did on 18 May of 1886 at the age of 25 leaving  behind a husband and 3 small children.   The children were found to be living with William, her brother, and his family in 1900.   The next loss for John A B and Mary’s family came when their son Alonzo died at age 23 in September of 1887.   John and Mary had to see two of their grown children die and be buried in a two year period.  In addition, it is possible 2 more daughters may have died young, Sallie and May.  Records are inconclusive.

Alonzo Swanson grave marker 001

Before 1897, John and Mary had moved from the farm to Lynchburg and lived in an area called Cotton Hill.  John and 3 of his grown daughters- Cammie, Idella and Minnie– all worked in a cotton mill.   They rented a home at 706 Fillmore, Lynchburg City in 1899.  Their son, William and his family lived nearby on Dearing St. and William worked at the Glamorgan Pipe Company which made fire plugs.  Interesting since William later became a fireman!.

In 1899, my second great-grandmother Mary Frances Swanson passed away.  The last record of her was in the 1899 City Directory for Lynchburg and in the 1900 Census, John A B, was living with William and his family and was listed as widowed.  They had been married for 39 years.

John A B Swanson was not listed in any 1910 census and no death records or burial records have been found as yet so I assume he died before 1910.   More research ahead!   However, I recently found a picture posted on Ancestry of his granddaughter, Maud Mary Martin Milstead.  She was the daughter of Margaret, John A B and Mary’s first child.   She died in 1961 in Norfolk, Virginia at age 77 from pneumonia due to a fractured right hip and humerus.  She fell 10 days before her death by slipping on a scatter rug–  A very sad ending.  Her young picture is hauntingly beautiful!

Maud Mary Martin Milstead 001




Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940, Rockbridge County Virginia, FHL microfilm 33,799.

Dodd, Jordan R, et al., Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850, Bountiful, UT, USA; Precision Indexing Publishers.

United States Federal Census 1850, District 51 and a half, Rockbridge, Virginia; Roll: M432_973; Page: 363A; Image: 310.

Virginia, Marriages 1785-1940, Index, FamilySearch, citing Amherst Co., Virginia, FHL microfilm 30.311.

United State Civil War Soldiers Index, 1861-1865, Database, FamilySearch, J A B Swanson, Private, Company C, 10th Regiment, Virginia Infantry, Confederate; FHL microfilm 881,448.

Historical Data Systems, Comp.  U. S Civil War Regiments, 1861-1866, (database on-line), Provo, UT, USA, Operations Ins. 1999.

United States Federal Census 1870 and 1880, FHL microfilms 553,132 and 1,255,353

U. S. City Directories, 1822-1995, (database on-line) Provo UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2011.

Find a Grave,, Memorial 102225953.


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