Women’s Words Wednesday – A Grieving Mother’s Letter

So much of our history is recorded, remembered, and influenced by the views our male ancestors. But that’s only part of our story, and I am fascinated by the stories of our female ancestors. I have added a new blogging category called Women’s Words Wednesday where I will post and reflect on these important words that I have found in my research, in whatever form they arise (letter, photo, official document, etc.).

Below is a letter from my great-grandmother, Maine (Swank) Cubbage, to her sister Margaret (Swank) Speedy about the illness and death of her son George. It is known who has the original letter, but my mother transcribed it many years ago at a family gathering.

George Cubbage was about two years old when he died of diphtheria on Christmas Day  1921. He was the youngest of the eight children born to Charles and Maine Cubbage. George was buried on 26 December 1921 in Braddock (Russell) Cemetery, the same place where Charles and Maine buried their daughter Leah a year and a half earlier in 1920.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for them. The letter mentions Charles (Charlie), some of their children (Lester, Marian, Minni, Artie) who were between ages 7 and 17. The letter also mentions Art (Margaret’s husband) and Bill, who was Maine and Margaret’s cousin who had lived with Charles and Maine for most of his life.

Monessen Jan 1 1922
Dear Sister
It has been a long time since I wrote to you. and what a lot has happened since then.
Just two weeks ago today I wrote you a long letter and told you all about my trip to Swissvale. George and I went on Friday and stay till monday. and Uncle George got our George a nice pair of tan shoes for his birthday. and he wore them home and that was the last he wore them he called them his pitty shoes. When I was writing that letter he was playing around here as well as he ever was. and him and Lester and Marian and I sat here until after eleven o’clock that night and him and Lester were carrying on high. you know how he was just at the age when he would try any thing or say any thing he saw the rest do. and he always was bright for his age. even the Dr. said he was a wonderful boy. Well we went to bed. and all went to sleep and about one o’clock he wakened me crying to get in my bed and coughed then just like the croup. he dedn’t sleep much untill morning about six he fell a sleep and slept until dinner time. I brought him down and he ate dinner with us we had soup and he was always fond of that and he ate some. but I saw what I thought was a very bad cold he was feverish and horse but didn’t seem to be sick. I dressed him and he played around a little while and then ask me to by O baby him. and I took him and he went to sleep. and when he woke up I saw he was getting worse. I greased him with campherated oil. but when Charlie got up at four o’clock he said if I were you I call the Dr. and tell him how he is and may be he want have to come so I did. But as soon as I told him he had a high fever and a croupie cough he said why that sounds like diptheria and I will be right over. he came over. he came and looked at him and at his throat and said that is what it is. and he said call up my wife and tell her I won’t be home for supper for an hour. he said put him to bed and I will be right back and he went but was only gone half hour and he came with the anti toxine and put it on both of his legs. and watched him for a while and then went but he said before he went he would be back in two hours and he would have to put a tube in his throat for it was closing up fast. he told us to be ready. he said he would have to have three to hold him and he said we would have to do it because we could not call any one else in. so we called Charlie home and we had everything ready when he came back. he looked at George and shook his head and said there is no use waiting. He is changing color now. So I held him in my arms and Charlie held his head and Marian his feet. and he got the tube in all right. and it was wonderful the change that came into his face. when I went out of the room he said if it had been two hours later he would of been dead. Well the next day he put more anti toxine in him and all the rest of them. he said it was the very worst kind of diptheria. it was the black diptheria. he put anti toxine in him four different times and we had to tie his hands down to his sides to keep him from pulling the tube out. he did get it out one night about one o’clock and started to choke right away and Marian called the Dr. and he came so fast. I don’t know how he got here – he just threw his over coat on over his pajamas and run. I thought that night he was gone for sure. I didn’t think he could stand to have it put in again but he did. Marian and I held him and he went to sleep as soon as it was in again. after that Charlie didn’t go to work no more he stayed home and we never left him night or day. he got over the diptheria all right. The Dr. took the tube out on the fourth day and he could breath all right but the next day we noticed he was worse and we called the Dr. to come right away and when he came and examined him he said phenonia had set in. he told us before that we would be lucky if we could get him through with out it. that was on Thursday that he said he had phenonia. well be both worked with him night and day and on Friday evening he turned over on his said and went to sleep and slept for over two hours. he was still sleeping when the Dr. came in at nine o’clock. he said how is he. neither one of use said a word for we didn’t know whether that was good or not. we thought he might be in a stupor of some kind. but when the Dr. looked at him he was just tickled to pieces. he said why his pulse is normal and he is sleeping just as natural as can be. we you can guess how we felt. well all day Saturday he seemed to improve and the Dr. was come in about nine o’clock in the evening to see him for the night. he said he is no worse only he was flity. he just talked all the time. well that night we both sat there untill two o’clock and then I laid down across the bed and slept till five and got us and Charlie layed down. and George knew us both all the time. he talked to me. and just coaxed me to take him up. he reached his arms up around my neck. and said by sehlep mama but I told him he would frize if I took him up. and then he said he was freezing just to get me to take him and that is the way he talked on and I gave him watear as he called it at half past six. and then I noticed a change in him and I called Charlie and said this baby is worse or dying and Charlie jumped right up. but George just gasped three times and was gone. the Dr. got here in time to see him breath his last. he said he had phlurises of the heart is what made him go so quick. he heart got paralised. well I have told you the best I could all bout his sickness. but I can’t attempt to tell you what a house this is. they all thought so much of him and he was always ready for mischief. I thought it was hard when I couldn’t be with Leah when she died. but I found out that is not the hardest part of death. we could fix Leah just the way we wanted to and the kids could all kiss her good by. but as soon as George died, the undertaker came and I got the clothes ready that I wanted on him. but he said. I am very sorry but we are not allowed to dress him. I said well if I had known that I would have dressed him my self but he said he would of had to take them off again. It was the law. he just rapped and rapped him in white muslin and layed him on a stand that he had and left him in the room until the health officer came – and he sealed the room up and disinfected the room body and all and left it that way for two hours and then the undertaker came and put him in the casket with a glass top and all you could see was just his face not even his hair nor his ears nor his hands. it was supposed to be sealed but I found out it wasent. I found the catch on it and opened it. and kissed him. no one knows that but you now. I wish now that I had let the kids kiss him too. I don’t think it would of hurt them. we were not allowed to have no funeral just the family and no one was allowed to come in all the time he was sick or we of been fined $50. They allowed the men to go to work but they were not allowed to go near his room. that is why Charlie quit work and stayed home and helped nurse him. We had two large cars. Charlie and I and Lester and Minni and the casket went in one and the rest of them and the minster went in the other one. that roads were awful rough too. Poor Bill is taking it awful hard. he dont cry he just groans and that is worse. They took the sign down yesterday and Charlie is going back to work to morrow and the kids to school. then is when I will miss him more than ever for he was always where I was. Lester and Bill have no work the mill shut down the day before Christmas. I don’t think I will ever think the same of Christmas again. The kids were waiting on Christmas they had been saving their pennies to get trimmings for a tree. I had told them if they got enough trimmings I would get a tree. they wanted one so bad for George. Artie had got him a little tin??? as George called them. he was crazy about autos. Bill was planning to go to Pittsburg after Christmas and get him one that he could ride in. but he never saw any thing he got for Christmas. They are all wrapped up yet. I hadent got him anything yet, we had him down street the Saturday evening before he got sick and he saw santa claus. and shook hands with him. I intended to get him a kick a bobcle. we could hardly get him away from them but we didn’t get down street again and when I called up the store where they was Friday evening they were all sold. they said they would have some in on Tuesday and Charlie said that would be alright for he would not be able to play Christmas any how. and sure enough he wasn’t. I think I have told you all now. if there is any thing else that I have forgot to tell you, why you ask me and I will tell you. I took a wreath down for Leah’s grave. I couldn’t think of coming away and leaving flowers on one and nothing on that poor lone grave. George dident have as many flowers as Leah had but they looked nice. what he did have Bill got him a pillow that was a great deal bigger than the one Leah had and it said George across the center and Lester got him a big bunch of carnations. I tryed to get a bunch of sweet peas for Leah’s grave but I couldn’t get them. I am sending you a couple of little yellow flowers off George’s pillow. He was always picking dandelions. he said there were a tame dandelion with another name. Well I will close now. we are all well at the present and hope this will find you both the same. Tell Art that we both thank him for his offer. and if we find we cannot squeeze through we will be glad to know we have a friend waiting to help us out.
Good by
Your Sister

Wow. This is by far the most personal item we have in our family heirlooms and records. Maine’s words so clearly captured a mother’s grief.

“but I can’t attempt to tell you what a house this is … I thought it was hard when I couldn’t be with Leah when she died. but I found out that is not the hardest part of death.”

I think too of her sister Margaret who received this letter and learned of her nephew’s death (Leah had been visiting Margaret when she died). We have no pictures of George, and only a couple of Leah. I am so thankful that we have this transcription of Maine’s words to her sister, as heartbreaking as it is to read.

Have you found any letters or diaries in your family history? Have you read their words to better understand your ancestors?

#52Ancestors: A Woman I’d Love to Meet

This post is part of Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge. The prompt for this week is “I’d Like to Meet.”

There are so many ancestors that I’d like to meet – too many to list here (and why). But one that stands out is Polly. She was my husband’s 5th great-grandmother. I’ve done a little bit of research on Polly and her family, but I have much so more to learn as I have not yet been able to get to Bedford County – it’s on my research travel list!

So what makes me want to meet Polly? Her Last Will and Testament. Here’s a quick timeline of her life to give you the basics before we get to her will:

  • Mary “Polly” Boyle was born around 1789 in Virginia, probably in Bedford County.
  • She married Reuben Kerns/Karnes in 1808.
  • Reuben died in 1835 at age 51, leaving Polly with four daughters (the youngest still a teenager, the oldest married). Reuben’s will provided that his plantation and household items were to remain with his wife until her death, and then be divided among his children.

On 21 July 1859, Polly wrote her own will. The will was signed with her mark, indicating that she could not write, and likely dictated it to someone. It starts as standard will:

Polly directed that all of her estate (real and personal) be sold by the executor. The resulting money was to be held by the executor as a trustee for equal use and benefit of her four children (which she named) during their lives and after their death to their children. If any daughters died without heirs, their share was to go to the surviving sisters (or the sisters’ children).

This is the part that caught my eye:

“… it being my wish that no part of the legacies herein given to my children shall be under the control of their present, or any future husbands they may have, or be in any manner liable for their debts.”

Wow. Nothing to the husbands, nor can they control the “legacies.” I have not seen anything like this in a will thus far! The following year, Polly was still living in Bedford County with her youngest daughter, and enumerated next to two other daughters and their husbands (and children).

Polly likely died in the early spring of 1864 – her will was proved in April. But not before Polly’s three sons-in-law “opposed the proof of the will.” But the court found it to be a valid will and that Polly “was of sound and disposing mind and memory and that she was under no undue influence.” The will was to be executed according to the law, and the court ordered that it was to be recorded as it was written.

So they opposed the will! I wonder if these men knew about her stipulations, or if they learned it after Polly’s death? And why did Polly exclude them for having control of her estate? Did she know something about them? Did she feel that her daughters married poorly?

Back to the 1860 census … Polly’s real estate was valued at $1000, which was an average value compared to those who lived nearby. But the daughters who next next-door did not own any land, and their personal property was valued at much less than Polly’s. Were these sons-in-law just looking for her money? So many questions!

1860 census polly

And what about Polly? This woman – at a time when women were just beginning to be allowed to own property (let alone control it without a guardian) – wrote a will that clearly didn’t permit her sons-in-law to control any of the estate that would go to her daughters. I wonder what lead her make this stipulation in her will. Was it the husbands, or did she want to give her daughters the ability to control their own assets?

Again, I have much more to learn about Polly, her daughters, and their husbands. She is definitely an ancestor that I’d love to meet one day. I’d have so many questions for her!

Have you found any interesting wills? Which ancestor would you like to meet?


Women’s Words Wednesday – Oma’s Origin Story

So much of our history is recorded, remembered, and influenced by the views our male ancestors. But that’s only part of our story, and I am fascinated by the stories of our female ancestors. I have added a new blogging category called Women’s Words Wednesday where I will post and reflect on these important words that I have found in my research, in whatever form they arise (letter, photo, official document, etc.).

My Oma (“grandma” in German), Elise Gegenheimer, was born in 1919 in Ittersbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Her mother, Louise Gegenheimer (age 22), was not marred and died from an infection contracted after childbirth, when her daughter was only 5 weeks old. I had heard bits and pieces of her story as a child: I knew that she was raised by a foster family, but that’s about it. Many years ago, my mother was preserving old family pictures and records and typed up Oma’s story:


“After Oma’s mother died (Oma was 5 weeks old), she was raised by her grandmother. Her mother and father were not married and he didn’t want anything to do with the baby. When Oma was around 5, a letter came from the state telling the grandmother that they were taking her grandchild away from her because she was not able to care for her properly. That was very tragic for Oma and her grandmother. Oma was placed in a foster home in Ispringen (she ended up going to school with Gretel there). The foster family had 2 children, age 2 and 6. The husband was an alcoholic and beat his wife. He also beat Oma. They only took in foster children for the money. Oma was there for 9 months until the neighbors reported the poor care of her and that she was losing weight because they were not feeding her well. Also, every Sunday she had to clean out their barber shop. She was only 6.

            The state contacted Maria Fuchs of Stein to see if you would take in a little 6-year old girl. She was hesitant to do so because she was afraid that she would have to give her up some time. She finally said she’d take Elise on a trial basis. The state supplied new shoes for Oma and money to send her to Stein on a train. The foster family kept the new shoes and put old shoes with holes in the soles on Oma and also kept the train money. She and the foster mother walked to Stein.

            When she got to Stein, the first night, Maria Fuchs put Oma in bed between her and her husband. Oma was crying at night (very lightly) and Maria Fuchs decided then and there that she was not giving this child up and that she would stay with her in Stein.”

Louise Gegenhimer, age 19.

The story of my grandmother, as told by her daughter, is an important part of our family history. These words show the upheaval of changes in living situations, the dangerous and heartbreaking year with the foster family, and the eventual placement with Maria Fuchs. We are still connected with the Fuchs family in Germany. They were my grandmother’s family – and are our family today. And my mother still stays in touch with Oma’s biological mother’s family. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for Oma’s grandmother, having lost her daughter, to then have to give up her granddaughter (I don’t know too much about the reason why they felt that she was unable to care for Oma).

The only picture of my Oma as a child: around age 4 while still living with her grandmother in Ittersbach.


As hard as it is to read these words about my beloved Oma’s origin, I am thankful that I have a better understanding of where she came from. And I am so thankful for Maria Fuchs, and her willingness to say “yes” when asked to take in little Elise Gegenheimer. Because of her, Oma grew up healthy, married Adolf, had my mother, moved to America, and lived to be 91 years old.

Oma, Opa, and my mother in Dumont, NJ, 1953.


Women’s Words Wednesday – Sarah’s Will

So much of our history is recorded, remembered, and influenced by the views our male ancestors. But that’s only part of our story, and I am fascinated by the stories of our female ancestors. I am adding a new blogging category called Women’s Words Wednesday where I will post and reflect on these important words that I have found in my research, in whatever form they arise (letter, photo, official document, etc.).

Sarah (LNU) Cubbage is my 4th great-grandmother. Her husband William died intestate around 1820. Sarah died a few years later, around 1822, but unlike her husband, she did leave a will.[1]

Sarah Will 1Sarah Will 2

I Sarah Cubbage, widow of the late Wm Cubbage Decd of Pine Township Allegheny County State of Pennsylvania, do make this my last wil and Testament as follows, to wit, To my eldest daughter Martha Fletcher I do wil and bequeath on dollar, and to her eldest son known by the name of Samuel Cubbage, I do wil and bequeath one hundred-dollars to be paid to him out of my share of the estate of my husband Wm, Decd. The remaining part of my property I do allow to be equally divided between my sons, John George & Wm Cubbag and daughters Sarah Whitsell, Elizabeth Good, Mary Whitsell, & Jane deer. Except my clothing which I do allow to be divided amongst my daughters over and above their foregoing shares as follows to wit to my daughter Sarah Whitsell I do bequeath my black-silk shawl, provided her or her husband calls on it, to my daughter Elizabeth Good two of my Goats, to My daughter Mary Whitsell and Jane Deer I allow to be equally divided between them, except my spinning-wheel I allow to Jane and my son William’s eldest daughter I do bequeath a two-year-old heipher. And further I do appoint James Hilands Esq of Ross Township and George Whitsell of Pine Township to be my Executors, In witness whereof I have here unto set my hand and seal this thirteenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight hundred and twenty two in the presence of

James Hilands                                                                                Sarah Cubbage                                     James McElwain                                                                            X her mark

[Sarah’s will was filed on 27 September 1822.]

I have not found many wills for my female ancestors, especially back as far as the early 1800s. There were estate proceedings found in the Orphan’s Court for her husband William, that continued even after she died. Much of those proceedings had to do with the division of his property to his heirs, including three children who moved west to Ohio and Kentucky. I wonder if Sarah decided to write out a will, or if she was influenced by her family, or if she saw what may have been happening with the division of property.

It is interesting that she left her oldest daughter Martha only one dollar, but to Martha’s oldest son she left one hundred dollars. I have seen other wills in Allegheny County where money was bequeathed to the oldest grandson. Martha had moved to Ohio before William had died, and I have not been able to locate her husband Joseph Fletcher. Sarah names her grandson as “Known by the name of Samuel Cubbage.” which may help in locating the Fletchers.

The rest of Sarah’s property was to be divided among the remaining seven children, with the exception of the special gifts of clothing, spinning wheel and goats that she left to her daughters that also lived in Pine Township. Sarah also left a heifer to the daughter of her son William, who was living in Pittsburgh.

Sarah’s words through her will (that was actually written on paper by another, her mark X indicating that she could not write), helps me to understand her relationship with her children. Rather than having her property divided equally, she had felt it was important enough to specify which items were to go to her children, especially her daughters. I wonder if she saw how the children handled her husband’s estate, and she wanted to be sure her wishes were carried out? Or if there was another reason that she made out a will before she died.

I am thankful to have Sarah’s words and wishes, expressed through her will, to know more about her and her family.


[1] “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994,” digital images, Family Search  (https://familysearch.org : 4 January 2018), Allegheny County, Wills 1808-1830, vol. 2, page 289, no. 221, Sarah Cubbage (1822).


Women’s Words Wednesday

So much of our history is recorded, remembered, and influenced by the views our male ancestors. But that was only part of our story, and I am fascinated by the words of our female ancestors. I am adding a new blogging category called Women’s Words Wednesday where I will post and reflect on these important words that I have found in my research, in whatever form they arise (letter, photo, document or record).

Below is a letter from Sara Logan to Charles Cubbage, my great-grandfather, about Sarah Cubbage, Charles’ sister. [1]

[unreadable along frayed top edge of letter]
Dec. 16, 1902

Mr. Charles Cubbage,
Dear Friend –
Will write you a few lines this morning in place of your parents to tell you that Sarah had fallen yesterday evening and got seriously hurt. It was so very icy, and she had gone to the shed to feed the chickens and was lying there when they found her. Her head pains her awfully and her back hurts her too. The Dr was here again this morning and said there was little improvement on her
[unreadable along frayed top edge of letter]
be no change for 48 [?]
She just lies and seems to be sleeping and does not seem to notice any one. Charlie I think poor Sara is quite [unreadable] your Father and Mother are so worried but I know Charlie you will come out if you can and if you do not come out the [unreadable, possibly “next word you” ??] that Sara will be better and fully recovered again and a marked improvement from her present condition.

Sara Logan

Sadly, Sarah Cubbage died on Christmas Day, ten days after her fall. She was 45 years old. I do not know if Charles ever traveled the 30 miles from Swissvale to Penn Township in Butler County to visit his sister before she died. At this time in 1902, only Sarah and her brother James L. were still living at home with their parents – their five brothers, including Charles, had all left Butler County.

But who was Sara Logan? And why did she write the letter “in place” of Charles’ parents, James and Barbara Cubbage? Sara mentioned how worried they were and that her brother should “come out if you can”. Were James and Barbara too distraught to write the letter? These are questions I most likely won’t know the answers to, but get me thinking about the role that women played during a tragedy.

Sarah Cubbage, who never married, worked for many years as a servant in the home of John R. Logan. I am fairly certain that Sara Logan was connected to this family – either a relative of John, or possibly the spouse of one of John’s sons. Sara Logan wanted Charles to travel to see his sister, yet she seemed to stay positive at the end of the letter, hoping that Sarah will be “better and fully recovered.”  What was it like for her to be the bearer of bad news? Did she reach out on her own, or at the request of the parents? And since Sarah Cubbage didn’t survive, did Sara Logan need to write another letter to  Charles, and possibly the other brothers, to let them know about her passing? Or did Sarah’s parents James and Barbara send a letter?

Sarah’s obituary reported that “her death was made harder to those who loved her best by her continued promise of recovery”[2] making it appear that she was improving before she died. It also mentioned that she had for many years “remained in the home of Mr. John R. Logan, deceased, and where she was loved and will be mourned deeply” suggesting a close relationship with the Logan family. The obituary also notes that her brothers in Montana and Washington were unable to attend the funeral, leading me to believe that Charles made the trip from Swissvale to Penn Township.

Sara Logan’s letter to Charles, as well as Sarah Cubbage’s obituary, were found tucked inside of the Cubbage Family Bible, originally owned by her parents, James and Barbara.[3] I’m thankful for Sara’s words that convey part of Sarah’s story.


[1] Sara Logan (Valencia, Pennsylvania) to “Mr. Charles Cubbage”, letter, 16 December 1902. Privately held by the author.

[2] “In Memoriam,” undated clipping from unidentified newspaper, citing death of Sarah Cubbage on 25 December 1902 in Penn Township, Pennsylvania; privately held by the author.

[3] James and Barbara Cubbage Family Bible, The Holy Bible (New York: American Bible Society, 1870); privately held by the author.