Week 18: Social

My 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Ann Botts Ellefritz

I don’t have much information about the social lives of my ancestors.  However, a few years ago I worked on a project I called “1900,” focused on where my great-grandparents were in 1900.  Here’s the opening paragraph of the book I wrote as the culmination of this project.

The twentieth century began on a Tuesday.  On that day, all of my great-grandparents but one were living in Illinois, Oklahoma, or Texas. 

Mr. and Mrs. Warner Lismond Arnold and their eight children (including their youngest son, my grandfather John Cecil Arnold) lived in Montebello Township, Hancock County, Illinois. 

Mr. and Mrs. Howard P. Ellefritz and their two children (including their oldest daughter, my grandmother Orpha Lydia Ellefritz) (they would go on to have eight more children) lived just a few miles away, in Pilot Grove Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

Mrs. Franklin Anthis (Mattie) lived with her ten children (including her two-year-old daughter, my grandmother Susan Vernon Anthis) in Justice Precinct 7, Lee County, Texas; her husband Frank, who had been dead for just a little over a year, lay in Forest Grove Cemetery in Milam County, Texas, a few miles from their home.  Mattie would join him 32 years later. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Calvin Workman, Sr., and their 11 children (including their youngest son, my grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr.), lived on the homestead in Bear Creek Township, Logan County, Oklahoma, that Tom had claimed in the Oklahoma Land Run a decade earlier.

As I amassed information on my spreadsheet for this project, I realized that I would have to come up with some creative way of telling the stories of these ancestors.  I didn’t want to simply present a chronology; that would be boring to write and certainly too boring for anyone to read.  So I decided to focus my story on one ancestor in each location, and to place them in context for key events in their lives.

Here’s how that worked for one of the paragraphs in my “origins” paragraph, above.  This is the paragraph I focused on:

Mr. and Mrs. Howard P. Ellefritz and their two children (including their oldest daughter, my grandmother Orpha Lydia Ellefritz) (they would go on to have eight more children) lived just a few miles away, in Pilot Grove Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

I chose to focus this narrative on the mother of Howard P. Ellefritz – my second great-grandmother Mary Ann Botts (1838-1913).  I chose her because her life extended from the time this branch of my family moved from Kentucky to Illinois; she was born the year after they arrived in Illinois and she died more than a decade after my focus year, 1900.

Now that I had a focus person, I had to figure out how to tell her story.    First of all, I established the role of the family in the community.  Here’s what I wrote:

The Botts family played an important role in the religious life of Hancock County.  Joseph, Joshua, and Mary Ann’s uncle Absolam Botts were among the founding members of St. Mary’s Baptist Church in St. Mary’s township in Hancock County.

I also wanted to provide information about the family Mary Ann grew up in:

Mary Ann grew up surrounded by family.  Eighteen family members, ranging in age from 1 to 47, relocated to Hancock County from Kentucky in 1837.  This list includes the following people (their ages in 1837 appear beside each name):

  • Her grandparents Joseph Botts (47) and Sabra Wilkes Botts (also 47)
  • Her parents Joshua Mills Botts (24) and Tabitha Allen Walton Botts (21)

Her 10 aunts and uncles all came along too.

  • Her aunt Matilda Botts (27), her husband Milton Johnson (29), and their daughter Mary (1)
  • Her aunt Mary Polly Botts (25)
  • Her uncle William Oscar Botts (20)
  • Her aunt Ann Amelia Botts (17)
  • Her aunt Martha Jane Botts (14)
  • Her uncle Absolam Graves Botts (11)
  • Her uncle Robert Kirtly Botts (9)
  • Her uncle James D. Botts (7)
  • Her aunt Maria Louise Botts (4)

Her 2 older brothers rounded out the party

  • Joseph Oscar (3)
  • William Edward (1)

Mary Ann grew up with younger siblings as well, including 4 more brothers (Simeon Erskine, Sidney Worden, Junius T., and Robert Lineas) and three sisters (Amanda Jane, Matilda Louise, and Barbara Isabelle.) 

Then (almost) everyone got married and began to have children, and almost all of them spent the rest of their lives in Hancock County

It is difficult to get a handle on Mary Ann’s life.  So many people came to Illinois and died there during Mary Ann’s lifespan; many more were born there; and many others came to Illinois and then left in further quest of land and prosperity

So I decided to figure out who would have been in Hancock County for key events in Mary Ann’s life:  the death of her father Joshua Mills Botts in 1863, the death of her grandfather Joseph Botts in 1880, and the death of her husband Solomon Ellefritz in 1894.  Each of these events would have called for a significant family gathering to honor the lives of these men whose stories framed the family’s life in Hancock County.

It is not possible to determine how the deaths of these particular individuals were marked; at the time in America, elaborate funeral rituals had become common, with mourning garb required of women for some period of time, but I don’t know how these rituals were observed for these specific events.  I think it is safe to say, however, that these deaths would have been marked by some significant family gathering and ritual.

Mary Ann’s father, Joshua Mills Botts, died in 1863 when he fell off his horse.  He was only 50 years old at the time of his death.  His funeral and subsequent community gathering could have included about 70 members of Mary Ann’s family, who all lived nearby in 1863: 

  • Her mother Tabitha
  • Fourteen aunts and uncles
  • Eight siblings, plus the spouses of four of her siblings
  • Twenty-six cousins, and spouses of most of them

Mary Ann was 25 years old in 1863.  She had attended Knox College in Galesville, Illinois, for one year in 1858 and records identified her as a teacher.  She had married in 1861 and had a daughter in 1862.  Her brother Simeon had died of disease in 1862, six months after enlisting in the 28th Illinois regiment to fight in the Civil War.

By the time Mary Ann’s grandfather, Joseph Botts, died in 1880, Mary Ann’s situation had changed dramatically.  Her husband and her daughter had died of typhus in 1864, and Mary Ann married Solomon Ellefritz in 1867.  Solomon was 15 years older than Mary Ann and had never been married before.  They had seven children between 1868 and 1878, although two of them died in 1878 – a five-year-old girl named Mary and an infant named Martha.  My great-grandfather Howard P. Ellefritz (1870-1932) was their third child.

When Mary Ann’s grandfather Joseph Botts died in 1880, the funeral and subsequent community gathering would have included about 68 family members. Joseph was a respected man in the community, having reached the age of 80, so I imagine a larger gathering when he died.  This is what a county history said about him:

This family gathering would have skewed younger than the one 17 years earlier:

  • Mary Ann’s mother Tabitha
  • Twelve aunts and uncles
  • Three siblings and their spouses
  • Fifteen cousins, and spouses of most of them
  • Seven children
  • Six nieces and nephews
  • Three first cousins once removed (children of her first cousins)

When Mary Ann’s husband Solomon Ellefritz died in 1894, the funeral and subsequent community gathering could have included about 52 family members. This gathering would have skewed even younger than the one 14 years earlier:

  • Five aunts and uncles
  • None of her siblings (Most of them had moved away in the 1880s, although spouses of two of her siblings were still living in Hancock County)
  • Twenty cousins and some of their spouses
  • Seven children and two of their spouses
  • No nieces or nephews
  • Eight grandchildren

Mary Ann welcomed the new century in 1900 with the following family members leaving nearby

  • Five aunts and uncles
  • Four children
  • 20+ cousins of varying degrees
  • 6 grandchildren

I developed a massive spreadsheet to help me figure this all out.  Once I created the spreadsheet, I found that it was useful in helping me analyze all sorts of things about this part of my family tree.


Author: iseekdeadpeopleblog

I am a retired high school history and government teacher. I've been doing genealogy research since I retired in 2012. I define what I do as "constructing a plausible narrative about the past." I don't claim to know everything about the ancestors whose stories I tell, but I try to imagine myself in their lives. I sometimes call it "creative non-fiction." I try to differentiate between what I know for sure and what I "think" I know.

One thought on “Week 18: Social”

  1. Amazing the way you were able to build on what you “know” about these ancestors and go on to create an interesting narrative once you chose a focus person and a time frame!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: