My Ancestor Was a Cooper


Before the Civil War engulfed his life, my great-great-grandfather labored making barrels. In the 1860 census, Abraham Bates Tower, age 22, lists cooper as his work. It shows him as living in Jennings Township, Crawford County, Indiana and I’m guessing that he wasn’t very many miles from Leavenworth, an active shipping point on the Ohio River.

barrel making

A cooper’s workshop at Strawberry Banke in New Hampshire.


He was not the only one, many other coopers worked in that township. Other occupations in the census included river pilots, wagon builders, river loaders,  skiff maker, carpenters, merchants, and farmers. Probably, the local farm produce was packed into boxes and barrels for shipping on the barges that plied the Ohio River.

settler's supplies barrels

Barrels at a museum in St Louis showing how goods were shipped in the early days.

Abraham had married Nancy Angeline Long two year earlier and they had an 8-month-old child named Laura Ann born 29 September 1859. Their son, Erastus was born August 7, 1861.

The household included Abraham’s mother-in-law, 55-year-old, Nancy Ann (Daggs) Long who was separated from her husband. Six years later, she and Thomas Long divorced.

The family shared the house with another cooper who had a wife and child. His name was T.J. Linn (age 22) and his wife was Rebecca Z. (or J) Linn (age 21). The age of this Rebecca isn’t right to be Nancy Angeline’s sister Rebecca Bolton Long who was born January 14, 1829. None of Abraham’s sisters or nieces were the right age to be Rebecca Linn. Perhaps the two families just shared housing and were not related.

Before long, Abraham Tower would go off to the Civil War as part of Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry. He barely survived starvation and disease in the notorious Andersonville Prison and at the end of the war reunited with Nancy Angeline in Missouri where she’d moved to be with her sister’s family.

Despite long-term health issues, he farmed and there was no mention of being a cooper again. I imagine that it’s a skill that you can put to use on a farm if you have the tools. There’s always a need for barrels and wooden containers.

The Tower family traces its ancestors back to Hingham, Massachusetts. Apparently, there’s a long history in that town of coopering. Recently, I found an article called Bucket Town: Four Centuries Of Toymaking And Coopering In Hingham.

Numerous settlers became coopers and the streets were lined with bucket-making shops. Thomas Lincoln, who arrived from southwest England, was considered the first cooper in the town. In 1636, he called himself a maltster and an occasional carpenter. Coopering developed into a major trade by the mid-1600s, with 30 craftsmen joining Lincoln in the trade by 1700. Unlike their peers in Boston, who were making barrels, casks and kegs, the Hingham coopers were skilled in fabricating pails to transport milk and water; tubs for curing meat, dyeing fabrics and laundering; churns for making butter; strainers and hoops for cheeses; boxes to store spices; and a number of different woodenware to carry related goods.

Since these woodenwares were a necessity for settlers, Hingham craftspeople rose to the occasion. It was not until the mid-1800s that these products were sold in wholesale stores in cities like Boston. Earlier, they were purchased onboard the Hingham Station packets at Long Wharf. “The shipping records in Boston,” explains Bray, “were loaded with woodenware that was going up or down the coast, overland, to Canada or the West Indies.” Jackson adds that the Hingham buckets also traveled with prospectors out to the Gold Rush and even with the missionaries to Hawaii.

So, even generations later and a third of the way across the country, a Tower descendant carried out the tradition of coopering.


In visiting historic villages in Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, and also New Brunswick (Canada), I had the chance to see coopers at work and admire the useful buckets, washtubs, and barrels they created. All the photos are by Virginia Allain and are from those trips.

R Is For Religious Ancestors


Many of my immigrant ancestors made the arduous journey by sea to the colonies in search of religious freedom. The mandated, government religion in England did not suit them so in the 1600s, the Tower family set off for what became Hingham in the Massachusetts Colony. Knowing that family history, not just for the Tower family but also other early arrivals in the colonies (Vining, Joy, and likely other lines), shaped my thinking about religion.

Tower family historyTower family history Sun, May 23, 1909 – 26 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) ·

I’m a strong advocate of separation of church and state. Fortunately, the founding fathers as they worked on crafting the U.S. Constitution put that in. Jefferson, Franklin, and other great minds of the 1700s wanted to preserve the U.S. government from control by religious groups. In America, you are free to practice the religion of your choice and not have the government telling you which you can choose and not having those religions dictating laws for the government.

Therefore, I’m happy to find on my family tree umpteen variations of Christianity from Quakers to even a couple of Mormons and I’m sure, some atheists too. There are probably other religions that I haven’t spotted yet on the family tree from Jewish to Islamic to Hindu. Many people today identify themselves as spiritual but not part of any organized religion.

Here’s more from Wikipedia about the Great Migration which the early Tower family were part of:

Many Puritans refused to conform to the wishes of the King (Charles I) and his loyal Archbishop so they fled to the Plymouth Bay or Massachusetts Bay colonies, in what has been labeled the “Great Migration.” In 1633, migration from England to the Americas began with a number of participants on a ship named the Bonaventure. Robert Peck, the Rector of St Andrew’s Church, emigrated to the new colony of Massachusetts with half of his congregation, most likely all of the 133 people on HMS Diligent, which departed in June 1638 from Ipswich, England. Peck had been censured by religious authorities for his Puritan practices, and his daughter had married the son of another well-known Puritan minister named John Rogers.

The passengers on the Diligent, working-class people such as shoemakers and millers, a number of ministers, and gentry, were mostly Puritans. Once there, the passengers founded “New” Hingham, to remind them of “Old” Hingham in England. Once most of the passengers settled there, the population of the town had doubled. More specifically they were called East Anglicans, possibly named after the former Kingdom of East Angles in which Hingham resided, and maybe after the Anglican Church.

In more recent generations, my tree contains deacons and ministers in various denominations. My great-aunt Bertha McGhee studied at Baker University in Kansas. Later, while working at the Methodist orphanage in Seward, Alaska, she used her free time to start a church in the rural community of Hope. This photo shows Bertha inside that log church in the 1940s.

Bertha’s Story of Going to Alaska

In 1939 on the advice of a Deaconess friend, I enrolled for a year of post-graduate training at National College for Deaconesses and Missionaries. As the time for graduation neared and field representatives came to interview graduates for appointments. I wondered if I would consider a task in Alaska if it was offered.

While in Baker I had taken a course in the “Spread of Christianity around the World” and Dr. Ebright had assigned me the area of Alaska to study. Besides that a friend in our student volunteers for Christ had shared letters from a nurse friend of hers, who had gone with a group of children by boat from Nome via Unalaska to Seward when the Jesse Lee Home had been moved there in 1925. Nurse, Beth Stewart Dalit was to become a very dear friend of mine in the years that followed.

D Is For Deaths in Indiana


In searching for Crawford County, Indiana information that might help me with my ancestors, I found an interesting list of causes of death for that area. My Tower ancestors lived in the small town of Leavenworth, Indiana, along the mighty Ohio River.

The earliest date was from 1872 and the newest was 1919. Unfortunately, my direct ancestor Abraham Bates Tower and his wife Nancy Angeline Long left there after the Civil War, so the list didn’t really shed much light on them and their way of life prior to his departure. I had to resort to other sources to find out about Tower family deaths. Here’s one that I tracked down.

 Laban and Vina Tower

Abraham’s oldest son, Erastus Laban Tower was born in Indiana August 7, 1861, but grew up in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas as the family moved around. Later he returned to Indiana, became a postmaster, and died there September 30, 1939, in Oriole, a town in Perry County.

I found his cause of death in a newspaper clipping in the files at the Tell City Library in Perry County which is adjacent to Crawford County. He died of apoplexy, an old-fashioned term for a stroke. Another clipping told of his widow, Clarvina Viola (Cox) Tower, dying after being ill for five weeks in 1943, That’s a little vague, so it could have been cancer or a stroke or who knows what.

laban tower and wife Clarvina or Vina Cox

You can read more about Laban’s life in an article on Hubpages.

Interesting Crawford County Deaths (Not My Relatives)

The people listed here are not ancestors of mine, but just ones I found interesting.
Some died in fairly ordinary accidents. One person was killed by a falling rock (there’s a large bluff by the river with a winding road leading upwards) and another killed by falling out of a boat on the Salt River (a 150-mile long river in Kentucky). William Corbett died in 1891 after being struck by lightning.
It doesn’t give the age of the individuals but I’m guessing some are children. One died from choking on beans and 3 girls died by drowning in the Ohio River, all on the same date. That is likely to have been a boating accident.
Some are quite odd.
►Walter Eldridge was killed by an elephant in 1916. Was a traveling circus in town? It turns out that he left Indiana to join the circus. After further research, it seems the incident happened in Tennessee. You can read more about the sad situation which resulted in the elephant being killed.
►Elizabeth Deuchars died by fire from her pipe. I’m guessing that she was smoking and a cinder fell on her skirt setting her on fire. Her death was in 1909 and it does list her age as 94.
►Alva Hooten committed suicide in 1913 and the note by his name said “He was to be Married Saturday.”
►Will Hughes and his father Sherman died in 1897 from eating wild parsnips. I searched on that and found that they can be mistaken for poison hemlock.
Some people think genealogy is just boring research. I find it fascinating, even the incidental information like this.

B Is For Billy Tower


Little Billy was actually William Lee Tower. Since his father was William Warren Tower, I’m sure it simplified things to call the youngster, Billy.

billy tower (3)

In the 1925 Kansas census, we see the blended family that he was born into. His mother Emma Hill had two children from her marriage to Isaac Newton Roberds (James age 14 and Francis age 9). After Isaac Roberds died in 1922, she married William Warren Tower. W.W. Tower had two daughters still at home (Pearl age 20 and Edith age 14). So, baby Billy had Roberds half-siblings and Tower half-siblings.

billy tower (2)

At age 4, Billy lost his mother. So, in the 1930 census, we see Billy living with his father, William Warren Tower and a different assortment of siblings. W.W. Tower’s daughter Myrtle (Tower) was living there with her husband Floyd Casey and her daughter Maxine Casey. It’s likely that Pearl and Edith left when they each married, so Myrtle came to raise Billy.
Billy’s half-sister Francis (Roberds) age 14 was still part of the family as well. Myrtle’s daughter, Maxine, at age 7 was the aunt of Billy, age 5.
These photos are from Viola McGhee, my great-aunt’s album.
Here are Myrtle and Floyd Casey.
floyd casey and myrtle tower casey - learn more about them on my blog

William Warren Tower’s daughter, Myrtle and her husband, Floyd Casey.

At the Library – 1860s Tower Family


Years ago, I made a trip to southern Indiana to search for my Tower ancestors. I hustled to visit the Old Tower Cemetery, comb through the vintage records at the Crawford County Historical Society, and then spent hours at the Crawford County Public Library in English, Indiana.

I’d brought along a wand style scanner but it ran out of batteries quickly. I resorted to taking photographs of the records. Photocopies would have been too expensive and difficult to do with the oversized record books.

insane records for Crawford County, Indiana

The archives even included the records of people judged to be insane. There was one Tower listed but not a name I recognized.

I was greatly impressed with the genealogy collection at the public library which contained local books that were not available elsewhere. One title, Buried ‘Neath the Waters by H.O. Jones, gave some insight into my great-great grandparents’ lives.

Abraham Bates Tower was working as a cooper before the Civil War according to the 1860 census. He lived in Jennings Township, Leavenworth, the largest town in Crawford County, Indiana with his wife Nancy Angeline, their daughter (8-month-old Sarah), his mother-in-law (54-year-old Nancy Long) and another couple and child.

The Buried ‘Neath the Waters tells of the Ohio River traffic with flatboats carrying away local goods from Leavenworth. These included barrels filled with smoked and pickled meat, barrels of lime created in local lime kilns, and barrels of whiskey and brandy made from local corn and fruits. The boats traveled down the river selling their cargo and going as far as New Orleans. Abraham Tower and S.J. Linn made the barrels for this trade.

1878 indiana map

Map of Crawford County, Indiana from 1878. Note Jennings Township and Leavenworth by the Ohio River.

The book describes Leavenworth as thriving right before the war with five general stores, three saloons, two hotels, a tailor shop, a millinery store, jewelry store, drugstore, bootery, two dressmakers, a confectionary shop, and a saddle and harness shop. There were doctors and lawyers and carpenters, with a barber and a blacksmith as well.

When I visited in 2012, only remnants of the town remained near the river. Repeated floods had forced the town to move higher and also they lost the county seat.

I still have not resolved the mystery of the other family living with the Towers. Their names were S.J. Linn (male, age 22), Rebecca J. Linn (female, age 21) and Mary E. Linn (female, age 7 months).

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…

View original post 88 more words

Seeking Laura Tower


I’m back to work on my ancestor-hunting. Family Search has added Indiana marriages for a wide range of years, so I pounced on that database.

Putting in my key ancestor, great-great-grandfather Abraham Bates Tower, I found a number of marriages where his name appeared. No, he wasn’t married a number of times, it was on his children’s marriage records that I found him.

That led me to pursue his daughter, Laura A. Tower through her marriage on 11 March 1886 to William Lewis Taylor. I already had that date, but the record provided me with his parents’ names. Always helpful to have that.

I already had a daughter for the couple, Rhoda Taylor, born the next year. Still, I needed more. I had no date of death for Laura. I hunted up some census records for William Taylor in Dubois County, Indiana. He shows up in 1900 with daughter Rhoda, some other children and a new wife, Eva.

Rhoda Taylor Grigsby and husband Tom - Laura towers daughter

Laura Tower’s daughter, Rhoda Taylor. Rhoda’s husband is Tom Grigsby. (photo provided by another genealogist, kiss110418, on Ancestry) 

Oh oh, that could mean that Laura died prior to 1900 or they got divorced. In 1899, William Taylor married Eva Taylor (former name, Eva Thomas?) and Rhoda now has an older step-brother Everett Thomas born in 1871 1892.

William Taylor has 2 additional sons in that census, Herman Taylor born December 1889 and about 10 years later, William T. Taylor born March 1900. Could Herman be Laura’s son and she died in childbirth or did she die sometime later before 1900?

I’ll be searching further for some clues on this and to find out what happened to Abraham’s daughter Laura.

I posted this to the Tower family group on Facebook and got this input from another Tower descendant: “There’s a Grigsby family association, too! (Which I am also a member of. And Du Bois. Ancestry is fun! :)) National Grigsby Family Society. Looks like Eva Thomas had two kids with Taylor, William Thomas Taylor and Alpha Taylor then ran off and married John F Thorn (according to the 1920 census listing Eva Thorn and the Taylor kids). Everett Thomas (later adopted the Taylor name?) was 8 in 1900, so born in 1892, not 1871, transcription error there! No help for tracking down when Laura died or where she was buried though.”