Pioneer Women – Intrepid Ancestors!

In my recent research, I discovered some real honest-to-goodness women pioneers!  I am talking about women who traveled by wagon train out west to find new homes and build a new life with their husbands and braving all kinds of peril on their arduous journeys!  In this blog, I will share some of what I researched and although they are “cousins” and not direct ancestors, I feel their stories have a need to be told.

Mary Thomas and her husband John Griffiths Williams departed Winter Quarters, Nebraska in January of 1847 to travel west with a company of covered wagons  (Company type is unknown).  Her journey must have been both adventurous and taxing and ended in Tooele, Utah!   John Griffith Williams was born in Penally, Pembrokeshire, Wales about 1804, the son of John Williams and Anne Griffiths.   Mary Thomas was born in 1808 in Washington County, Virginia and was the daughter of Abijah Thomas (1776-1819) and Martha McReynolds (1782-1850, died of consumption).  Mary Thomas was related to my 3rd great-grandmother, Susannah J. Porter, mother of Mary Ann James (see blog “Portrait of a Strong Woman”).  John Williams and Mary married in February of 1834.

Here is how the ancestry goes:  Susannah Porter James’ mother was Mary Polly Thomas (1801-1894) who was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Thomas (1766-1838) and Freelove Cole (1773-1848).  Yes, his name was Thomas Thomas and her name was Freelove.  I am not making this up! By the way, Freelove’s mother was “Remember Cole!”  Definitely unforgettable names!   Thomas J. Thomas, my 5th great-grandfather, had a brother named Abijah Thomas who was the father of Mary Thomas.  Put more simply, Mary Thomas was a distant first cousin to myself.  I usually do not research distant cousins but I felt that Mary, being a pioneer woman, probably had a story to be told!

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Gravestone of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole

Another member of their wagon train was most likely John’s brother, Daniel Edward Williams,  who is also buried in Tooele, Utah Cemetery.  From what I found, Mary died in April of 1864 in Tooele, Utah after surviving the long, perilous journey.  She did not bear any children that we know of and cause of death is unknown.  Her husband John remarried the same year to Margaret James and they had 3 children.  The second wife Margaret died in 1869 just after their 2 day old son, Daniel Williams, died on 16 Dec 1869 perhaps from complications of childbirth.

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Lavinia Chadwick Heninger (Pritchett)

Mary Thomas Williams’ niece, the daughter of her sister Ann, also traveled west.  Lavinia Chadwick Heninger was born in Burkes Garden, Tazewell, Virginia on 17 Aug 1845.  She married Thomas Mitchell Pritchett on 16 May of 1865 in Scioto County, Ohio.  According to records, Lavinia and her husband also left the Winter Quarters in Nebraska in January of 1847 so it is likely that they were traveling with the same wagon train as her aunt and uncle, Mary and John Williams.

Pritchett, Thomas, Lavinia, Eunice 001
Thomas and Lavinia Pritchett with their only surviving daughter, Eunice Emily

Lavinia and Thomas Pritchett did arrive safely in Utah but much of their later story is tragic.  Of their 5 daughters, only 1 survived.  The first child, Lavinia Ann was born in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete, Utah and lived only about a month.  The second baby daughter was born and died the same day in June of 1868. The third daughter, Eunice, born in 1869, did survive, lived a long life, and died in 1950.  The fourth daughter, Celestia was born in December 1872 and died in June of 1873.  The last daughter, Annie, lived only a month in 1877.  In 1880, the little family moved to Emery, Utah and Lavinia died in 1889 in Teasdale, Wayne, Utah.

Next is the story of Emeline Emelia Hopper and her sister, Irene C. Hopper who were kin of my 3rd great-grandmother, Lucinda Cloud Lyons.  Emeline was born in 1832 and Irene in 1827 in Illinois.  Their adventure began when they started west with their parents and possibly other siblings leaving from the Winter Quarters, Nebraska in June of 1848.  Their entire journey west entailed 109 days of travel.  Their wagon train was to join with another.  One this other train was Jasper Harrison Twitchell, a blacksmith and wheelwright by trade.  Jasper was traveling with his wife, Sarah Rutledge and small son, John Newton, who was born in 1842 in Illinois.  In 1844, Jasper had been appointed wagon master of one Mormon wagon train leaving Navoo, Illinois in 1844 and the train wintered in Iowa for several years before leaving in spring of 1848.  On the way, his wife Sarah died at Chimney Rock, Nebraska in July 1848 and he dismantled part of his wagon to construct a coffin for her.  Jasper and his 5 year old son arrived in Salt Lake Valley, Utah, that September.

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Emeline Hopper Twitchell and Jasper Twitchell with baby.

Emeline Hopper, not quite 17, was on this same wagon train and married the widowed Jasper Twitchell on January 1, 1849.  Her sister, Irene Hopper,  then married Jasper’s younger brother, Sanford Lorenzo Twitchell, a few months later.  That spring, the Twitchell families and other relatives left for California.  Irene and Sanford’s first child, Celestia, was the first baby of European descent to be born at Sutter’s Fort, California (Sacramento).   Jasper and Emeline and other relatives settled in San Juan Bautista and Jasper opened a blacksmith shop.  They had 13 children and Jasper died in 1894 and Emeline in 1912.    Irene and Lorenzo had 9 children and Irene died in 1905.  Lorenzo wrote a journal of their journey which can be seen on

My last story of a pioneer woman is about Sarah Ann Richmond, born 20 Nov 1829, daughter of Thomas Richmond and Sarah Ann Burrows, both of England.  Both of their families emigrated from England and slowly made their way to Nauvoo, Illinois.  The families joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Sarah married Henry Nelson in May of 1848 and in 1850, they had a son born at Council Bluff, Iowa and named him Henry Thomas Nelson after his father and grandfather.  They were in one wagon company at winter Quarters and suffered much cold and hunger during those trying days.  They departed Council Bluffs in May of 1851 when Sarah was but 21 years old and they traveled for 131 days with the David Lewis Wagon Company to Provo, Utah.  Their next child was born in Provo in Feb. of 1852.  All together, they had 13 children and finally settled in Buysville, Utah.  Henry died in 1897 and Sarah died in 1902.

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Henry Nelson and Sarah Ann Richmond Nelson

One can only imagine the fortitude of these pioneer women who endured such hardships and perils on their travels across the west.  They experienced so much first hand that we only can read about.  They had to bury their children and loved ones and go on.  They left their homes and other family behind, probably never seeing them again.  It was not glamorous, but endless toil.  They packed their lives into a covered wagon and traveled hundreds of miles.   They perservered despite Indian attacks, droughts, storms, and just bad luck.  Their stories are compelling and sometimes heartbreaking.  I am honored to have them as ancestors!


Find A Grave, database and Images,, memorial page for Mary Thomas Williams, Memorial number 99526.

Utah State Historical Society, Comp. Utah Cemetery Inventory, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1847-2000 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2000.

United States, Federal Census Mortality Schedules, Index, 1850-1880, [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 1999.

Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940, FHL 34389, p. 465.


Are We Related to Jesse and Frank James?

Frank and Jesse James 001

This weeks prompt for 52 Ancestors is Family Legends.   Right away I thought of what  my Uncle Bill Lyons would tell us when we were young.   He said we were related to Jesse and Frank James, the infamous outlaws.  Uncle Bill was the oldest in my dad’s family and seemed to know the most about family history.  Still, it was hard to believe and as we grew up, we believed it less and less.  When I became interested in genealogy, I discovered that my 2nd great- grandmother was Mary Ann James, married to Columbus Perry Ashlin, so there was the James name.   However that did not prove any relationship and I really needed to investigate this James family.  I proved to be a gargantuan task as the James family lines are huge!  It will take me years of research to complete, for sure!

Wanted poster 001

While researching at the Mormon History Library in Salt Lake City a couple years ago, I found a whole book written on the James Family!  It is titled “Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia” by David B. Trimble (see Sources).  This volume of genealogy in one of four written as an expansion of Southwest Virginia Families, published in 1974.    The book basically gives the genealogy  and families of three brothers, Samuel, Thomas and John James who were born in Virginia in the early 1700’s.  I was able to establish my ancestry connection with Samuel James who was born 19 November of 1722 and married Mildred Taliaferro in 1740.

One of Samuel and Mildred’s sons, Spencer James (also known as James Spencer James), married Frances Davis and their daughter Phoebe Byrd James, born in 1797, married Chesley Harrison Ashlin.  Chesley and Phoebe are my 3rd great-grandparents, being the parents of Columbus Perry Ashlin.  So here I found my 2nd Great-grandfather, Columbus was also descended from a James as was his wife, Mary Ann James!  Mary Ann was the daughter of Thompson B. James and Susannah J Porter.  Thompson B. James was the son of Ezekial James and  Frances James, the sister of Phoebe Byrd James.  It all sounds confusing but my 2nd great-grandparents, Columbus Ashlin and Mary Ann James were actually distant cousins!  So now I established that there are indeed a lot of James ancestors in my tree!   But how did they relate to Jesse and Frank James?  I still had my doubts!

Then I stumbled on a web site entitled “Stray Leaves” by Eric James as I was researching the ancestry of Jesse and Frank James.  This web site was surprising and very well documented!  It is based on 10 years of research and uncovered 35,000 plus known James families and relations!  The Story of the James Family in American spans 350 years and started with John James, an immigrant from Carnarvon, Wales to Colonial Virginia arriving before 1650.  It also traced the James heritage back to William the Conqueror, Edward I “Longshanks”,  Edward II and Edward III of England.  There is much more on the James family ancestry that one can explore.  However, from what I could determine, some James family stayed in Virginia (which would be my ancestors) and others moved on to Kentucky.  Many were Baptist ministers as was Robert Sallee James, Jesse and Frank’s father.

This is a very extensive site but has a list of surnames that can guide you to check for anyone related to Jesse and Frank.  I checked the Ashlin name and was very surprised to find my second great-grandparents, Columbus Perry Ashlin and Mary Ann James listed as related to Jesse and Frank James!  Wow, according to this, my Uncle Bill was right!  However, I do need to continue studying the site and tracing both Jesse and Frank’s ancestry to see how they are related to our James’.  I do need more concrete proof.  But for now, if anyone asks if we are related to Jesse and Frank James, I can say “Quite possibly!”

stray Leaves 001

Jesse James, shall I say “distant cousin?”

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Trimble, David B. (David Buchanan), 1922-(Main Author), Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia, Austin, Texas: D. B. Trimble, c1992, 402 pages.

Wingfield, Marshal, Pioneer Families of Franklin County Virginia, Chesapeake Book Co. 1964, pp. 132-136.

(Stray Leaves)


“Executed by the State of Iowa, 1935”

One of the recent prompts was “Black Sheep” and I am certain we have more than one in our ancestry.  One can’t choose their ancestors, good or bad, but all of them had a story and their stories need to be told.  The “Black Sheep” I chose to research is Patrick William Griffin.  His mother was Susan Jane Lyons, the sister of George Lyons, my great-grandfather making Patrick Griffin my 1st cousin 2X removed.  So why did I pick Patrick?  When I found his death certificate on, I was shocked – the cause of death was “Death by hanging by State of Iowa!”   The Nature of Injury portion of the certificate just stated “Legal execution.”  Now this is not an usual way to die and I knew I had to find out more.  What happened and how did one come to such an untimely end at age 37?

Griffin death cert 2 001

Patrick’s mother, Susan Jane Lyons, was the daughter of Joseph Cloud Lyons and Mary Lavalett Dudley and she was born 07 March of 1855 in Pulaski County, Virginia.  On September 11 of 1890, Susan, at aged 36,  married John Griffin.  John was born in Michigan in either 1854 or 1849 to Maurice Griffin and Elizabeth Cunningham.  John’s parents were both born in Ireland, County Mayo, married there and immigrated to Michigan, later moving to Minnesota.

Patrick was born on January 7th of 1898 in Michigan.  When I found their 1900 Federal Census records, I was surprised to find that Patrick wasn’t their first child although he was the only child listed.  The Census listed that Susan had borne 4 children but only one- Patrick- was living. The family lived in Gladeville, Wise, Virginia where John was a “Day Laborer”.  They owned their home and had a mortgage.  From my other research, I see they lived in the same area as Susan’s parents at that time.  In 1902, another son was born and named Raymond Griffin.  By 1905, the Iowa State Census listed John, Susan, Pat and Ray Griffin living in Emmetsburg, Palo Alto County, Iowa.  That was quite a move- they moved from Virginia to Iowa in that 5 year period.

By 1910, the family moved again to Fern Valley, Palo Alto, Iowa and this Census stated that Susan had borne 6 children and only 2 were living.  It must have been a strain on the family to lose 4 children, but more tragedy was to come.  In 1914, John Griffin passed away.  Patrick was 16 and Ray was 12 when their father died.   The 1915 State Census for Iowa showed widow Susan and the 2 teenage boys living in Walnut, Palo Alto, Iowa and Susan was already 60 years old.  Patrick was employed as a painter and earned $300 in 1914.  He had an 8th grade education.  The family was listed as Catholic – not surprising as their father John was Irish.

By 1918, Patrick had to register for the World War I Draft at age 20.  His occupation was listed as “Thresher” and probably found work on a farm.  His personal information listed him as medium build and height with brown eyes and dark hair.  The 1920 Federal Census listed them still in Walnut and Patrick, 22, and Ray, 18, are laborers.  By 1925, Patrick moved out and lived in Graettinger, Iowa according to the Iowa State Census.  He was single and could read and write.  Ray stayed with his mother and they also moved to Graettinger and took in boarders to get by.   Susan, now age 76, was found in the 1930 Federal Census as a Lodger with the Eastman Family in Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa.  No 1930 Census data has yet been found for Patrick Griffin.

The country was in the throes of the Great Depression by now and work was very hard to find.  Bread lines and soup kitchens were all over.  This was a bad time in our history.  If a man couldn’t get a job or support his family, what could he do?  How many turned to crime in desperation?  Did this happen to Patrick?  Of course it would be no excuse for the crime he did do but did it contribute?  We will never know.  Here’s what happened.

On Friday, December 16 of 1932, Iowa Deputy Sheriff William Dilworth of Black Hawk got a call when decorating a Christmas tree for his 6 year old daughter.  He was sent to a home belonging to Mrs. Frank Graves about 1/2 mile from town.  Deputy H. M. Mitchell accompanied him.  They were to talk to Patrick Griffin and Elmer Brewer about a statutory rape case.  The two had just come into town from Chicago.  Upon entering the shack where the two were hold up, Deputy Dilworth was shot in the head by Elmer Brewer and died instantly.  Patrick Griffin shot twice at Deputy Mitchell and the deputy was able to get away and drive to a nearby inn for help and was sent to the hospital.  Elmer and Pat took off into the woods despite the bitter cold.  The City Detective, Hugh Crumrine,  aided by R. V. Stealy who happened to be out in the woods hunting rabbits nearby, tracked and captured Brewer and Griffin who were about frozen and readily gave themselves up.  They were taken to the Black Hawk County jail.  They confessed their crime and stated they fled to Chicago after committing a robbery in Kansas, buying a new car and driving to the area.  They thought the deputies were coming to get them in connection to the robbery.

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Patrick Griffin

There is a wealth of newspaper articles that I researched on about the pair.  They give lengthy details about the capture, the trials and the executions of Elmer Brewer and Patrick Griffin.  In January of 1933,  Elmer Brewer was convicted of first degree murder of Deputy Dilworth.  “Patrick Griffin was found guilty of first degree murder in a verdict returned at 2:43 p.m. Thursday in Black Hawk district court.  The jurors recommended the death penalty…Altho evidence established that Brewer’s shot was the cause of Dilworth’s death, the jury held Griffin equally guilty of the murder…The jury, which deliberated only four hours, including lunch time, included 10 men and 2 women.” (The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, 05 Jan 1933, page 1)

Both were given the death sentence and sent to the state penitentiary at Fort Madison to await execution.  Appeals were made to the State Supreme Court and Governor Herring but all were denied  and only served to delay the execution that was originally set for January of 1934.

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Two of Griffin’s childhood friends stood by him as he mounted the gallows on June 5th of 1935.  One was Rev. Leo McEvoy, pastor of Ruthven, Iowa Catholic Church who also administered the last rites.  The other was Attorney James Fay of Emmetsburg, Iowa who was also Griffin’s lawyer.  Patrick’s brother Ray also stood by him.  Their mother Susan had passed away in October of 1934 in the Black Hawk County Home at age 82.  It was probably a blessing that she did not live to see her son hanged.

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Patrick William Griffin, age 37, was laid to rest in Saint Jacobs Cemetery, Graettinger, Palo Alto County, Iowa.  May he rest in peace.


Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Database, FamilySearch, Mary L. Lyons in entry for Susan J Lyons, 07 Mar 1855; citing Pulaski County, Virginia, reference 13, FHL microfilm 2,046,959.

Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940, Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

State Historical Society of Iowa: Des Moines, Iowa; Iowa Death Records; Reference Number: 101821054.

Microfilm of Iowa State Censuses, 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925 as well as special censuses from 1836-1897 obtained from State Historical Society of Iowa via Heritage Quest.

Certificate of Death for Susan Griffin, Waterloo, Black Hawk County, State of Iowa, Registered No. 397, October 2, 1934.

United States Federal Census 1900; Gladeville District, Wise, Virginia; Page 18; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm 1,241,732.

United States Federal Census 1910; Fern Valley, Palo Alto, Iowa; Roll: T624_417; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0176; FHL microfilm 1,374,430.

United States Federal Census 1920; Walnut, Palo Alto, Iowa; Roll: T625_505; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 200.

United States Federal Census 1930 for Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa for Susan Griffin;; Ancestry Operations, Inc.; Provo, UT, USA. 2009.

United States, Selective Service System.  World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918; Washington D.C. NARA: M 1509; Registration State: Iowa; Registration County: Palo Alto; Roll: 1643218.

Find A Grave,; Patrick William Griffin, Memorial # 114182649.  Des Moines Tribune, Des Moines, Iowa:  05 June 1935, Wed., p. 4 and 17 Dec 1932, Sat., p. 1.;  The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa: 04 Jan 1933, p. 2 and 05 Jan 1933, p. 1 and 17 Jan 1933, p. 3 and 05 June 1935, p. l;  The Daily Times: 05 June 1935, pp. 1, 2.