Four Generations of Mothers


Originally posted on my mother’s blog.

Discovering Mom

Researching family history becomes more meaningful when you can see the faces that go with the names and dates. For Mother’s Day, I pulled together my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. Beyond that, I have just the names and information, but no photos.

I like seeing them all lined up like this. Looks like that high forehead and the nose came down through the generations. I must have gotten my nose and blonde hair from the Martin side, but I do have the forehead.

Here are their names and dates (left to right):

    • Gail Lee McGhee Martin 1924-2013
    • Ruth Vining McGhee 1897-1960
    • Nancy Jane Babcock Vining 1851–1924
    • Ellenor Nancy Jane Wright Babcock 1820–1882

These four women had 36 children and that doesn’t count the miscarriages or ones that died at birth. Nancy Jane remarried not long after her first husband died. In 1873 Kansas, a woman with children didn’t have the…

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Nancy Melvina Tower Vining


As part of the 52 Ancestors Blogging Challenge, I’m featuring my great-aunt Vina. The photo shows her (in a white dress) with Lealon McGhee and an unidentified young woman holding a doll.


Lealon McGhee and Melvina Tower with an unknown girl holding a doll.

She was born the 8th of August in 1899 in Jet, Missouri and named Nancy Melvina Tower. Her father, William Warren Tower, was 28 and her mother, Margaret Ann Peller (or Pillar), was 25. She had three sisters, Myrtle, Bessie Pearl and Edith and a brother, Charles.



Nancy Melvina Tower and her younger sister, Bessie Pearl. Probably ages, 5 and 1.

In 1920, Vina Tower was 20 years old and lived in North Seminole, Oklahoma with her father, mother, and 2 sisters. Her older siblings, Charles and Myrtle, were no longer living with the family.

The highest grade Vina completed in school was 8th grade. High school was not always available in small towns or for country folk.

I presume her mother Margaret died, as her father married a second time to Emma Hill Roberds. Emma was widowed and had two sons (James and Almeda) from her previous marriage. William Warren Tower and Emma had a baby, William Lee Tower February 9, 1925.  He was usually called Billy.



Looks like Bertha McGhee (rear, left). Gail Martin indicated on the back of the photo that it included Edith and Pearl Tower. Could one of these be Vina Tower or Ruth Vining?

In 1925, Melvina Vining was 25 years old and lived in Tyro, Kansas with her husband, Albert. They were newly married. He had served in France during WWI. You can read more about that at this site: Albert Vining in World War I. Albert’s first wife, Edith Flossie Hawkins died in 1923.


albert and edith flossie hawkins vining

Albert Vining and his first wife, Edith Hawkins.


Five years later, the census shows Melvina Vining was 30 years old and lived in Jefferson, Oklahoma with her husband, Albert, age 36.

Vina Tower Vining and nephew Donald Vining 1944

Vina Vining and nephew, Donald Vining

The next census on April 1, 1940, we find Melvina Vining at age 40 and living in Jefferson, Oklahoma with her husband, Albert.

Also with them was their 18-year-old nephew, Donald Vining. Family lore does not record why he was living with them instead of with his father, Luther Vining. Albert worked for the Canary Oil Company as a pumper and Vina was a homemaker. They never had children of their own.

Albert and Vina Vining 001

Albert and Vina Vining

She was a widow for 33 years after Albert died in Tyro on September 10, 1960.

This is my mother visiting her aunt Vina Vining. We were related both through the Vining and the Tower family. This might be Vina’s birthday. I see a balloon in the picture.


2013-01-24 gail martin celebration of life 029

Gail Martin visiting her aunt, Vina Vining in the nursing home.


Nancy Melvina (Tower) Vining died on December 17, 1993, in Coffeyville, Kansas, at the age of 94, and was buried there. The Tower family were very long-lived.

Her Tower family line is Nancy Melvina Tower -> William Warren Tower -> Abraham Bates Tower

The photo below shows her grandfather, father, brother and nephew. Abraham Bates Tower with a beard, his son William Warren Tower, holding the child, Billy Tower in overalls and the child is Troy Tower.



Four generation photo – Tower family


Minda or Armin or Arminta or Amanda?


My great-great-grandfather had a step-daughter that has me puzzled. The 1880 census lists her as the 18-year-old step-daughter of William Newton McGhee. The handwriting is hard to read, but it looks like Arminta or Arminda Micheal.

There don’t seem to be any hints on the ancestry site to help me out, so I’ve been poking around in other people’s trees looking for clues. I’ve tried variations on her name and stumbled across a possible husband for her (Lewis Davis).

Dresses on display at the Eureka, Kansas historical society.

Dresses on display at the Eureka, Kansas historical society.

Mitchell seems to be the maiden name for her mother, Elsie Jane, and possibly the census taker didn’t know how to spell that. Elsie Jane (also called Elsa in one family tree) appears to have a previous marriage as her name was Evans when she married William.

I found two Evans brothers to go with Arminda/Minta and even found Evans as a last name for Arminda on some trees. The brothers are Andrew and John W.

This raises the question of who was Minda’s father? Was it Thomas Evans who seems to be the father of Andrew and John, or was Arminda born out of wedlock before Thomas Evans married Elsie Jane?

As I mix and match the first and last names for her, I’ve found the listings for the husband and the brothers, but none of the trees include documentation like the census or a gravestone.

I wish I could solve the mystery of Arminta/Amanda/Armin/Minda with the last name of Evans/Micheal/Mitchell. She was born around 1862 in Arkansas.

Here’s what Velma Ann Roger’s had in her notes, with some additions of mine in (bold):

Samuel Newton McGhee was the second of three children born to William Newton McGhee and Elsa Jane Mitchell Evans.  Children of Wm. Newton McGhee and Elsa Jane were

1-John McGhee

2-Samuel Newton McGhee

3-Houston McGhee

William Newton McGhee had seven children by a previous marriage.  The first wife’s name is unknown. (I have Matilda E. Booker)

Their Children

1- Fate (Solomon Lafayette McGhee)

2-Lucinda (Lucinda Pearl McGhee)

3-Jane (Zilloh Jane McGhee)



6-Victoria (Victoria Isabell McGhee)

7-Matilda (Harriet Matilda McGhee)

8 – (Fidomia)
Elsa Jane, nee Mitchell, Evans had three children by her first marriage. 1- Andrew Evans, 2-Minda Evans (see the story above), 3-John Evans. According to scant information her husband’s name was Thomas Evans.

*An interesting footnote; Andrew Evans married Lucinda McGhee, and John Evans married Matilda McGhee. Brothers married stepsisters.  When Andrew died and Matilda died, John then took Lucinda as his 2nd wife.

What’s Next? I need to do more work on the whole batch of McGhees, Evans and Mitchells in Perry County, Arkansas. There’s a McGhee family cemetery on Find-a-Grave, so I’ll chart out a bunch from there and see if any fill the gaps in our tree.

mcghee martin family tree

mcghee martin family tree

Elmer McGhee


When Elmer Lee MCGHEE was born on February 6, 1910, in Tyro, Kansas, his father, Samuel Newton McGhee, was 34 and his mother, Viola Matilda Tower, was 37. He had seven brothers and two sisters. He died as a child on April 5, 1921, in his hometown.

Here’s the bare bones information from the U.S. Federal Census:
►1910 -Elmer McGhee was less than a year old and lived in Caney, Kansas with his father, mother, 5 brothers, and sister. His siblings are Clarence, Jesse, Roy, Bertha, Lealon, and Loren.
►1920 – Elmer Mcghee was 9 years old and lived in Caney, Kansas with his father, mother, 4 brothers, 2 sisters, and 82-year-old grandfather, Abraham Tower.  Added siblings for Elmer are Austin and Ethel. There was an 18-year-old boarder living with them who worked on the public road.


The occasion above seems to be a visit from the Texas branch of the Tower family (Alice and daughters, Helen and Willie Bell) to Tyro. Elmer and Austin McGhee are in the front.

Samuel Newton McGhee and son Elmer in Tyro KS

Samuel McGhee holding his son Elmer. Their home in Tyro, Kansas, with the smaller Vining family home in the background.

The background story on Elmer is he and his brother Austin had polio at a very young age. You see Elmer and his father, Samuel Newton McGhee here in front of their home in Tyro.


Austin McGhee, still in baby dress and his older brother Elmer. Note the step made from a packing box.

The family got a pony so Elmer could go to school. The other children walked to school, but Elmer was too disabled by the polio.


Elmer and Austin McGhee, Tyro, Kansas.

Here’s the Tyro School picture with Elmer and Austin.

elmer and austin mcghee school tyro (1280x768)

Elmer and Austin McGhee, Tyro School, guessing it is around 1919 

Elmer and Austin McGhee are in the 2nd row from the blackboard…the 1st two boys in dark shirts.

Elmer McGhee was buried in Robbins Cemetery near Tyro, Kansas. You will find a number of Tower, McGhee, and Vining graves there.


Bertha writes about the photo of her father Samuel holding Elmer.

William McGhee’s Estate Sale


According to the book, Washington County Tennessee, Settlement of Estates 1796-1841, William McGhee’s estate was totaled up after a public sale in 1828. He would be my 5 X great-grandfather.

Here’s the line: Samuel Newton McGhee > William Newton McGhee (3) > Solomon McGhee  > William McGhee (2) > William McGhee (1). Quite a few trees on have this line but I’m not seeing documentation linking the William > William.

It seems the McGhee name shows up in censuses and other documents with many variations in spelling. McGee, McGeehee, Ghee, Magee.

It’s interesting as many of the names that were buyers at the sale seem to be family members. It’s also interesting to see the value of items almost 200 years ago and what things he owned.


Wm McGhee (2) bought from the sale after the death of William Ghee (possibly his father):

one hoe .25, rifle 10.00, Cow & calf 9.00, Mans Saddle 10.00, Silver Watch 5.00, 2 Books .50, quantity of clothing 3.00, saddle blanket 1.00, Great Coat 5.00, 1 Scythe & Cradle 2.00, Sow & six pigs 3.00, ten bus corn at .25 per bushel 2.50, ten bus corn at .31 per bushel 3.10, a quantity of Corn at .31 per Bushel 18.60.

one pair upper leathers .27, one Bear skin 1.00, one fine hat 5.00, one fur hat, one wool hat 1.50, fifteen Bushels wheat 5.00, 150 bushels corn .33 1/3 per bushel 50.00

William McGhee signed with an X, his mark.

John McGhee (possibly William’s brother) bought 5 pounds iron at .03 per pound .15, one horse collar .75, five hundred Bundles fodder 5.51, Eighteen Bushels rye 6.12,Two pair Bridle Bits .50

Another person who bought at the sale was William Broyles. (The younger William McGhee’s wife is Leah Ann Broyles). There is a William Simon Broyles living in Tennessee, who was a cousin of Leah Ann. It seems likely that it is him.


Photo by Virginia Allain

A few others bought items from the estate sale. They were Matthew Clark, Willam Felken (or Fulker), William Forgeson, John Harman, and John McNeal. William McGhee’s horse sold for $75.

Although it doesn’t state in the record that William (2) is the son of William (1), it places the two of them in Washington County, Tennessee in 1828, along with the Broyles.

Some additional things we might interpret from this. It’s likely that William Ghee or McGhee was a widower since the things he owned were being sold after his death. It seems he grew crops of corn and rye and hay (the bundles of fodder). There was one horse and a saddle and a horse collar so the horse served both as a saddle horse and a plow horse. No wagon was mentioned.

His most valuable personal possessions were a rifle, a silver watch, a greatcoat and a fine hat. There were 2 books so either he or his deceased wife could read, but his son signed the sale paper with an X.

I’m glad to see no mention of slaves, though it is likely that he could not afford any.

Bertha McGhee Goes to College


This is Women’s History Month, so I’ll profile the women from our family tree. here My mother’s aunt, Bertha McGhee, born in 1903, went to college in an era when that was uncommon for a woman. She graduated from Baker University with a BS in 1929.

Bertha McGhee in 1924 - Independence High School.  She's the standing girl with the sailor dress.

Bertha McGhee in 1924 – Independence High School. She’s the standing girl with the sailor dress.

The flu epidemic of 1918 interrupted her high school years. She was finally able to complete her secondary education by 1924. In the fall of that year, she entered Baker University.

The back of the photo says "arriving in Baldwin, 1st time" She worked for her room at Miss Bennet's place. I think Bertha is the young woman with a pole behind her.

The back of the photo says “arriving in Baldwin, 1st time”
She worked for her room at Miss Bennet’s place.
I think Bertha is the young woman with a pole behind her.


I looked for a photo of the train station and found that they currently run excursion trains from Baldwin. The station dates back to 1906.

After attending Baker, she took a job in Farmington, New Mexico at the Navajo Indian Industrial School. It had been her dream for many years to help the native Americans. You can see her photos of 1929 and 1930 on this page: Navajo School – Farmington, NM.

Indian girls doing beadwork at the Navajo School in Farmington, NM. Photo by Bertha McGhee.

Indian girls doing beadwork at the Navajo School in Farmington, NM. Photo by Bertha McGhee.

In 1939, Bertha returns to college, but this time in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri. She is 37years old and living in Fisk Hall. The school is the Kansas City National Training School for Deaconesses and Missionaries.

She is the oldest of the students in Fisk Hall, with the youngest being just 20. Also staying at Fisk are the Dean of Women, the registrar, some teachers, a secretary, a deaconess, a dietitian, an assistant dietitian, a housekeeper, an office assistant and a librarian.

I’ll list the residents of Fisk Hall, in case anyone is looking for them. I’d love to find photos from her time there. Maybe someone has some group photos and Bertha would be in them.

The census lists Dagny B Gustafson, Ruth E. Decker, B. Eureath White, Dale Clarissa Kuler, Mary F. Smith, Martha M. Hanson, Grace Hutchinson, Aletta M. Garretson, Louise E. Dutcher, Ellen E. Smith, Elizabeth Hartman, Grace A. Vause, Minnie Pike, Pearle W. Tibbetts, Mary Blasckko, Bertha Cowles, Hazel May Gilmore, Anna Altmanna, Anna R. Barman, Nettie M. Judd, and Marion C. Cannady.

The students were Eletha M. Rogers, Laura E. Byers, Ruth Gish, Esther Beaman, Eunice Stockton and Reva I. McNabb. I look at the names and wonder which ones might have befriended Bertha.

After completing the program in Kansas City, Bertha moved to Seward, Alaska for her work at the Jesse Lee Home and lived there until her retirement.



More Memories of Viola Matilda McGhee


Guest post by Kerry Reitman: I just read your history of my grandmother. Thought you might be Kerry Reitmaninterested in my memories of her:

“Because we moved to Oregon when I was only two, I always thought I missed out on knowing the relatives from Kansas as well as my older brothers and sisters. But I was blessed to know my Grandma McGhee rather well for only a short time. . .better, perhaps than I realized and partially because I was anxious to drink in all I could of a “Grandma”, because she was also the only one I was to ever know personally. My mother’s mother and my father’s father were both gone before I was born.

I think my first knowledge of Grandma was probably through the beautiful “round Robin” letter that Daddy’s family circulated. Each family member placed a letter in a communal envelope as they received it from another brother or sister, or Grandma, removing their own from the last trip around. (Wish they had all saved those!) Through these letters, I came to know my aunts and uncles and also Grandma. I came to know them as people I adored. . . With commonalities that made them such a wonderful family!

Each letter always was full of humor, faith in their God, and stories of the land and growing things. Every letter from each of them told of what they were growing and how it was doing and what they had learned in growing it. From Uncle Loren who was hybridizing lilies, to Uncle Lealon who grew tomatoes on his patio in southern California, to Uncle Clarence who was building a pond and planting trees, to the garden I shared with my dad.

Everyone always had a story of growing things amongst the stories of raising the families they loved. A heritage that is probably why my life has found its way to raising wheat in Eastern Oregon with my farmer husband.

One of the earliest photos that we have of Viola Matilda McGhee

One of the earliest photos that we have of Viola Matilda McGhee

The second way that I grew to know Grandma was through my father’s love for her and my mother’s fond stories of her mother-in-law. My dad wrote to his mother regularly, spoke of her often, and missed her when she was far away. My mother told stories of Grandma McGhee living with them in early marriage and the strength and life lessons and household skills she learned from her as a very young bride. She told me of Grandma’s continued longing and loss of her husband; of the stories Grandma had told her of losing him to an oilfield accident; of the polio epidemic that struck both my father and his brother, Elmer.

The message from all of these stories was that of a strong woman of faith and character who met life with resilience and courage. Someone much admired by my own mother, who had learned and grown under the kind wisdom and tutelage of an older woman she had trusted and grown to love. My dad told the story of a mother who packed up her own belongings, rented her home and moved with him to college to clean and cook for him and several other boys. The images they placed in my head and heart made me love a lady I really had never met. . .

Until she came to live with us for six months when I was about nine or ten. We lived in Cave Junction,

Neita and Austin McGhee with daughters, Dana and Kerry at the Martin farm in Kansas in 1967.

Neita and Austin McGhee with daughters, Dana and Kerry at the Martin farm in Kansas in 1967.

Oregon at the time. I remember a sweet, tiny, little woman with a calm reassuring voice with a (new to me) mid-western accent. Her hair had thinned, so that the bun she had worn for a lifetime on the top of her head had diminished to become one tiny pin curl on the top of her head. Her face was warm and kind and so familiar as she evoked every shape and expression, so much a part of my life that I already knew in my beloved father’s face. Her hands, smaller and more slender also looked like that of her son’s and were always busy, as she had taught his to be, with creative work that provided for and made a home a healthy, good place to be.

I have images in my head of her canning tomatoes with Aunt Ethel, who also visited briefly at the time. I still don’t know really HOW you peel a tomato, as they did for canning or to slice fresh for the table!

She finished my quilt and Dana’s while she was in our home. . . She made one for every grandchild and when you have nine children the number of grandchildren is immense!! Mine was probably the last. . .as I am the youngest of the youngest son. She worked on other quilts, taught my sister, Dana, to crochet. . . My sister Cheryl to knit. She collected old fabric and made braided rugs and made other quilts while in our home. I remember her worrying that her eyes were troubling her and she wasn’t quilting fast enough. . . My dad said “Mom, what’s the hurry? You know when you finish that one, you will just start another!” She was a warm, comfortable presence in our home. She left a hole when she left.

Bertha McGhee and her mother, Viola Matilda McGhee

Bertha McGhee and her mother, Viola Matilda McGhee.

When she left, it was to go to Alaska to stay with my Aunt Bertha. We continued to have wonderful stories of what were to be the last year of her life through letters, and extended phone calls with my dad. She traveled the Inside Passage by ferry to Alaska; saw beauty that astounded her and the wonders of a spouting whale and glacial ice. My Aunt Bertha worked in The Jesse Lee Home, a Methodist orphanage. I am sure my grandma enjoyed the children there as she had embraced us. She experienced the 1964 earthquake that destroyed the orphanage in Seward and forced them to move to Fairbanks.

She fell and broke her hip in the fall sometime telling my father, who always walked with a cane from his polio: ” I did just what I’ve always told you not to. . .I stepped back without looking and tripped on one of my own braided rugs!” She never recovered completely and died near Christmas. She was sent home to Kansas for burial. . . I watched with aching heart my father’s tears when as a struggling minister’s family we had insufficient funds to go and attend her service.

My father’s office was in our home at the time. All of us knew never to bother him when he was writing his sermon. Often you knew you could peek in when you heard him whistling which meant he was done and the sermon complete to his satisfaction. He also usually wrote to his mother at this time. It is a picture I will never forget. . . The day a few months later when he stood in his office door in tears, my mother holding him, because he had started his letter; forgetting that she was no longer here.

I learned from my Grandma that the value and love of who you are is a powerful thing. It can be shared through those you have touched; and given and passed on to those who you have never or only briefly known; in ways that make them also able to share some of those values and gifts of the Holy Spirit that enriched your life. God’s ever encircling blessing.”

Kerry Rietmann