Glimpses into One Family’s Story: Cammie Swanson Lyons

Grandma Lyons with Art 1945 001
Cammie Lyons holding my brother in 1945.

The prompt for week 16 of #52Ancestors was “out of place”.  I wanted to learn more about the life of my paternal grandmother, Cammie Swanson Lyons, mostly because she seems a mystery to me.  Seeing that she and Clarence Lyons were my grandparents, it did seem “out of place” or odd that I knew so very little about them.  Sure I found a lot of facts in my research such as birth and death dates, who were their parents, when they got married, etc.  I was able to write a few stories about them and you can see one here: The Lyons in Michigan  

Beyond the facts, I wondered what her life was like growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia.  What was her family like?  I knew she was the fifth child of William Domman Swanson and Cora Virginia Phillips.  Cora was the daughter of Oscar Phillips and Nancy Jane Burch, whom I wrote about recently.  A Family of Phillips!

grave markers of William and Cora Swanson 001I knew my great-grandfather, William Swanson, was a fireman and killed in the line of duty in Lynchburg in 1926 when my grandmother was 33 and married with children of her own and living in Detroit, Michigan.  One can only imagine what a devastating effect that his sudden death must have had on the family!  Did Cammie travel to Lynchburg, Virginia for the funeral?  She had ten brothers and sisters so a lot of families had to be affected.  In trying to gain more insight into my grandmother’s life growing up, I started researching her siblings and found some more challenging family events that surely must have affected Cammie.

The first born child of William and Cora, Cammie’s oldest sibling, was Pearl Swanson and everyone called her Pearlie May.  She was born in 1887 and married a cousin named Oscar Stephens Phillips.  Pearl and Oscar were married in Pelham, Caswell County, North Carolina in 1908 by a Justice of the Peace.  They were both 21 at the time so didn’t need parental permission but why did they go to North Carolina to marry?  Remember the family lived in Lynchburg, Virginia.  None of the family were witnesses for the marriage so perhaps they eloped because of objections to the marriage or other reasons?

Pearlie May was a healer and a midwife as was her mother, Cora, and many of the Swanson women.  Pearlie May was often attending to the “sick” with natural herbs and such.  She always contended that there was a bit of gypsy in the family but that wasn’t yet proven!  Anyway, Pearl and Oscar had 3 children named Audrey, Marvin Ashley and Mildred Dare.  There is a picture of their house on 56 Federal Street in last week’s blog.

Chinault, Wm Fred, husb Mildred Phillips, death, 1962, Lynchburg VA 001
Death Certificate of William Chinault.

Their daughter, Mildred Dare was married 3 times and, according to a family story told by my aunt, her father Oscar shot and killed Mildred’s second husband, William Ginault, in self defense in 1962.  Now I have not found anything else on this story except William’s death certificate verifying that he indeed died from a gunshot wound to the chest.  Sounds like a family tragedy.

Cammie’s sister Maria Gertrude Swanson was born in 1889 and the family just called her Gertrude.  She married Preston Waverly Holloran in 1909.  When I found the 1910 census for the Swanson family, it showed that Preston and Gertrude were living with William and Cora, her parents, and they had a newborn daughter named Mildred Holloran.  The next find was a surprise as Gertrude died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis in 1912 at age 23 leaving a 2 year old daughter!  Gertrude  and Preston must have moved in with her parents because of her illness.  My grandmother Cammie was still living at home and I wonder if she helped to care for her dying sister Gertrude.  I was unable to find any more information so far on her daughter Mildred Holloran but I will keep searching.

Bernard Edward Swanson was born in 1891 and became a railroad engineer.  He married Frances Vernell Fernandez who was born in Portugal.   I think that Bernard may have been a twin as there is a birth register for Vernon Swanson who also was born in 1891 and died as an infant.   My grandmother was the next to be born in 1893 and after her was another brother, Roy Swanson who was born in 1895 and who died as an infant.  The next brother was Corry Swanson who was born in 1896 and lived to age 77.   He married Effie Lillian Steppe. 

Ralph McWane Swanson was born next in 1900 on Cammie’s 7th birthday!  Ralph was born January 28th and married Hazedell Marion Portewig in 1922.  Sadly, Hazel, as she was called, died at the young age of 33 from influenzal pneumonia and a lung absess.   She left 3 children, the youngest being but 2 years old.  Ralph had to keep working as a fireman for the railroad to support the family and Hazel’s widowed sister, Gertrude Portewig Ashworth, took care of the children and raised them.  The three children were Victoria Mallory, Cora Virginia and Ralph McWane Swanson, Jr.


(Swanson) Maud Mary Martin Milstead
Maud Mary Martin

In 1900, three children of William’s deceased sister, Margaret Swanson Martin, were also living with the Swanson family and being raised by William and Cora.  They were his nephew Charles Martin, nephew Maury Martin and niece Maud Martin.   William’s aged father, John W Swanson and 2 boarders also lived with the Swanson family.  This made a total of 14 people in the household – a very busy family!

The next sibling of Cammie’s was born in 1902 and named Virginia McKinley Swanson but everyone called her “Vergie”.  She married George William Gilley who was later a veteran of WWII and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Vergie and George had 5 children named Ruby Virginia, Roland Sylvanious, Shirley Fern, Norma Jean and Donald.  Now I know that this family must have visited my grandmother in Detroit or even perhaps lived in Detroit for awhile.  Roland sent a letter to my dad during the war and recalled how they visited in Detroit and how my dad had broken his arm at the time! Gilley, Shirley, dau of Virginia Swanson, picture 001 Also, Shirley Fern Gilley was born in Detroit in 1928, possibly during a visit!  As far as I was able to find out though, the Gilley family did live in Virginia in the Lynchburg area!  My grandmother must have been happy to have some of her family visit her in Detroit as all her family lived in Virginia except her brother Ralph who later moved to Michigan.  We called him “Uncle Pat” but I have no idea why he was called “Pat” instead of Ralph!

The tenth child of William and Cora was Ruby Roosevelt Swanson born in 1904.  She married Houston Bland Blankenship and they lived in Arlington, Virginia as Houston worked for the Navy Dept, Bureau of Ships.  They had four children named Marjorie Courtney, Helen Adair, Joyce Ann and Carl Houston.

The last and eleventh child was James William Swanson in 1906 and he has a tragic story also.  He died at 4 months old of marasmus and was sickly since birth.  Since he died in Reading, Pennsylvania, it is probable that William and Cora brought him there to seek medical treatment.  Marasmus is the inability of the body to process proteins and nutrients.  It is unknown where he is buried.  His death brings the total of children who died young to four.

When I look back on what I found, I see my grandmother and her family were no strangers to tragedy and death.  I know she and her siblings had to work and help out with the family.  At 17, Cammie worked in a box factory and her brother Bernard Edward worked in a rope foundry.  I think they were a close knit family and must have had a lot of joys to balance out the tragedies.  Besides, they certainly came up with imaginative names for their children!  My grandmother died when I was in my last year of high school and lived over 600 miles away so I didn’t get to see her much.  But I do remember she often had an air of sadness about her but she was always kind and loving to her family.

LaFon, his mom and baby art 1945 001
My grandmother, Cammie Swanson Lyons and my father, LaFon Camlyn Lyons with my brother in 1945.  Picture taken at our home in Michigan.












grandma Lyons grave marker 001


  • United Sates Federal Census, 1900, Auburn Radford Ward 2, Montgomery, Virginia, District 90. FHL microfilm 1241737
  • North Carolina Marriages, 1741-2011 [database on-line]Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  • Death Certificate for Maria Gertrude Holloran. Virginia Death Records, 1912-2014 ( Operations, Inc.)
  • United States Federal Census, 1910, Lynchburg Ward 1, Virginia, District 77, FHL microfilm 1375647.
  • Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940; FamilySearch; FHL microfilm: 2048489.
  • Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940; Salt Lake City, Utah; FamilySearch, 2013; FHL microfilm: 2048456.
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death for James William Swanson; File No. 117760; Berks County, PA.

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