At the Library – 1860s Tower Family

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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).

Tyro Family And Friends

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Playing Croquet – Vintage Photo

This mystery photo was with a batch of family photos from Tyro, Kansas. My mother said these weren’t relatives, so must be friends in Tyro who came to have a game of croquet with our relatives.

Tyro friends playing croquet

The photo is labeled “Tyro friends playing croquet”

I’m guessing the photo is from 1910 to 1917, so before The Great War. They are dressed formally so maybe this was an after-church activity. The young men are wearing newsboy style caps, vests, long-sleeved white shirts, and ties (bow ties and a narrow tie). The McGhee family belonged to the Methodist Church.

In the background of the croquet game is a garden, I think. I’m guessing this might be at the Samuel and Viola Matilda (Tower) McGhee family home. They had a large garden according to their daughter Bertha’s account. She said, “The garden included a strawberry bed, huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, and the orchard had three kinds of peaches, apples, plums, pears as well as the grapes.”

The other option might be at the home of the Vinings, also my ancestors, but I doubt that their yard was this large. Another neighboring family was “the Galliger family with one daughter, Margaret, a little older than me and 3 younger brothers. The three families were soon doing many things together.”

I checked the 1915 Kansas census for Tyro and the 1920 U.S. census for Tyro and don’t see the Galligers listed. It would have been wonderful to look the family up on Ancestry and see if there were any photos of the three younger brothers. No such luck.

Methodist Episcopal Church in Tyro Kansas

Methodist Church in Tyro, Kansas (photo provided by Jack Irwin)

Seeking Laura Tower

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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.”

Nancy Melvina Tower Vining

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Four generation photo – Tower family

 

Old Tower Family Photos – an Analysis

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What a pair of cuties. These babies below from a bygone era belong to the Tower branch of our family tree. Fortunately for me, my mother put them in an album and wrote next to the picture.

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Reuben Tower’s son William Ray Tower on the right. Lorene Underwood, daughter of Ida (McElvaney) and Ras Underwood on the left.

There are several pages of these old studio portraits and a note saying she got them from Bill Tower who had them from W.W. Tower. That was enough to get me oriented. William Warren Tower lived in Tyro KS and was the brother of my great-grandmother, Viola Matilda Tower McGhee.

Hmm, then Bill Tower is my grandfather’s cousin, which would make him a second cousin to my mother, third cousin to me. OK, so now we’ve worked out the source of the photos.

If we had no label, that provenance would be some help in dating and naming the subjects. Don’t assume the ownership of the photos means the people in the photograph are part of that immediate family.

In this case, the two children lived in Oklahoma and the photo was sent to W.W. Tower by his brother, Reuben Tower better known as Shorty. The baby (right side of the photo) is Reuben Tower’s son William Ray Tower, usually called Ray. Don’t be fooled by the dress, as it was standard wear for baby boys of that era. It probably made it much easier to change diapers.

The other infant is a cousin to Ray. The baby girl is Lorene Underwood, daughter of Ida (McElvaney) and Ras Underwood. Ida was Pearl McElvaney’s sister (Shorty’s wife).

We’re lucky to have all that background information about the photo. Now, what can we tell from the photo itself? The wicker chair that the children are sitting on probably is from the 1890s or more recent. The fanciness of the children’s clothing shows the family is in comfortable circumstances and the fact that they can afford a studio portrait indicates that as well. The Tower family in Tyro did not have many photos like that, but I’m finding the Towers in Prague, Oklahoma had quite a few taken.

In the case of these two babies, I have their names and the parent’s names. A quick check on ancestry.com gives Ray’s birthdate as 29 Mar 1910 and Lorene’s as 11 Jun 1910. Ray seems to be sitting up on his own, but someone at the left edge of the picture is holding Lorene in place. I’d guess the photo is towards the end of 1910.

What happened to the children? In October 1911, baby Lorene died. Her parents had 5 children after her and her mother lived to be 94. Little Ray lived to be 82 years of age.

Sometimes vintage photos have the name of a photographer and a town, this one did not. If they are in an album held in place by photo corners, you can check for writing on the back.

glen-and-ray-tower-with-audrey-mitchell

The baby boy at the top of the page is now the older boy in this photo. I’d guess about 8 or 9 years old.

The “VV” refers to Vina Vining (originally Melvina Tower, daughter of William Warren Tower). The baby on the chair is Glenn Bates Tower. He was 8 years younger than his brother William Ray Tower. Audrey Mitchell lived with the Tower family.

Audrey Mitchell lived with the Tower family. The 1920 census shows her in the household when she was 12 years old, so she is 3 years older than Ray. I found a possible family for her in the 1910 census where there is a 4-year-old Andra Mitchell with parents Eva and Zack Mitchell.

The boys are Melvina’s cousins, the children of Reuben (Shorty) Tower.

Shorty (Reuben) and Pearl Tower, the parents of the two boys. (Thanks to Pat Ruble for these photos)

Shorty (Reuben) and Pearl Tower, the parents of the two boys. (Thanks to Pat Ruble for these photos)

Remembering Viola Matilda (Tower) McGhee

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Sadly, I have few memories of my great grandmother, Viola Matilda McGhee. Although I was in my early teens when she died, I saw her once in a while at family gatherings and was too busy being a kid to interact with her. My memories are vague ones. She was a little old lady dressed in old-fashioned dark dresses. We had to be quiet and not boisterous around this elderly woman who we saw infrequently.

Here is Viola Matilda McGhee with some of her great grandchildren in 1953.

Here is Viola Matilda McGhee with some of her great grandchildren in 1953. Susan and Owen Martin (standing), Virginia, Karen and Cindy Martin (seated) and our second cousin Leslie DeWayne Paugh Jr.

She was born on the 3rd of February 1873 in Carrolton, Missouri. Her father, Abraham Bates Tower, survived the Civil War and the horrors of being a prisoner of war at Andersonville Prison. Her mother, Nancy Angeline (Long) Tower, must have been a strong woman to care for her children during the war years and more children plus an invalid husband after that. 

The Tower family and six month old baby Viola Matilda traveled by wagon to Hilltop, Arkansas  Seven of the family members lived in the wagon for most of the rest of the winter while Abraham herded cattle there. The baby lived with the bosses’ wife during the winter. The family called the baby Tildy to differentiate between the infant and her caretaker who was also a Matilda.

I believe the government gave land to veterans there, but haven’t been able to verify that.

The family moved back to Missouri for the next 10 years but must have returned now and then their home place in Arkansas. The two places were about 300 miles apart.

At 21, Viola Matilda married Samuel Newton McGhee in Boone, Arkansas.

Sam and Viola Matilda McGhee with Clarence and Jesse

Sam and Viola Matilda McGhee with Clarence and Jesse, about 1898.

They had 6 children while living in Arkansas and then 3 more after they moved to Tyro, Kansas. Her parents lived there and her sisters needed her help nursing her mother, Nancy Angeline, who had a stroke. They remained in Tyro and the Coffeyville area even after her mother’s death in 1909.

Sam & Matilda 1903, with their children Clarence 7; Jesse 5;  Roy 2;  Bertha baby.

Sam & Matilda 1903, with their children Clarence 7; Jesse 5; Roy 2; Bertha baby.

Her husband, Sam McGhee worked at the Tyro Glass Plant as did his oldest son, my grandfather, Clarence McGhee. In 1913, the family followed the glass plant which moved to Sand Springs, Oklahoma, but the next year, moved back to Kansas.

The two youngest boys, Elmer and Austin, contracted polio in 1913 and both were crippled by it. Read more of that story collected by my mother from Tildy’s daughter Bertha. The family got a Shetland pony for Elmer to ride the mile to school.

Elmer and Austin McGhee, Tyro, Kansas

Elmer and Austin McGhee, Tyro, Kansas

The family had some sad years. The oldest son married and went into the army in 1918, ending up in trenches in France. In 1919, Samuel McGhee disappeared for 3 months. He’d been attacked and beaten, lost his memory but finally recovered to return to his family.

Sadly, their child Elmer died at age 11. The next year, 1922, Samuel died in an oil field accident. It was difficult for the family without their bread earner in that time before social security.

Samuel McGhee

Samuel McGhee

Viola Matilda’s children grew up, married and had families of their own. In her old age, she took turns staying with her children and grandchildren. She didn’t have a place of her own.

When she died at 91, she was visiting her daughter Bertha, who lived in Alaska. Bertha worked at a home for orphaned native children. Viola Matilda fell, breaking her hip which led to her death. She is buried near Coffeyville, Kansas in Deering Cemetery next to her father and mother.

Viola Matilda (Tower) McGhee with 5 of her grown children.

Viola Matilda (Tower) McGhee with 6 of her grown children.