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Friday, April 24, 2015

The Hayes Obituary Index and the Defiance Connection

Did you know that the Rutherford B. Hayes Library in Fremont hosts an extensive obituary index online for Ohio?  Over fifty libraries contribute to the index by submitting obituaries from their local newspapers, either current papers or older newspapers that survive on microfilm.  Millions of obituaries and death notices have been indexed and are searchable online HERE.

Many volunteers have transcribed obituaries from Defiance's newspapers, and they are slowly being added to the database. The index, itself, has fields for name, age at time of death, place of death, spouse, parents' names, maiden name, and date of death.  Once an obituary has been found in the index, it may be requested from the library.  Instructions will appear on the site for the process of requesting via email or post office.  Each library has its own methods of ordering and cost, if any, and that will appear on the site.

These newspapers have been indexed on the Hayes Obituary Index for Defiance:

Defiance Democrat - 1844 - 1894
Defiance Democrat - 1900 - 1901
Defiance Democrat - 1911 - 1918

Crescent-News - 1903 - 1914
Crescent-News - 1942 - 1945
Crescent-News - 1972, 1974, 1977, 1988, 1989, 1991 - 1994, 1998 - 2002
                  2011 - the present 

The library could definitely use volunteers to help with abstracting obituaries from the newspapers.  This would require using the microfilm to peruse each newspaper and then writing down the pertinent information. We would be happy to give a lesson on how to do this...it's not hard!

Be aware that many "obituaries" are but one line in the paper; sometimes they are even found in the social news.   Long, elaborate obituaries, especially in the earlier years, are an exception. When people were charged for submitting an obituary, it excluded many who could not afford to do that, so not everyone has an obituary.  However, if one can find a good obituary for an ancestor, what a treasure it is!

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Not So Notorious Homer L. Van Meter

When DCGS member, Dan Hasch, read our blog of February 11th, 2015, he wondered about the Homer  Van Meter mentioned as attending school in Sherwood.  Dan knew about the Homer Van Meter who was a sidekick of gangster, John Dillinger.  So who was THIS Homer Van Meter and how or did he relate to the same family?  His research led to the story below:

The story of the Van Meter family began with Perry H. Van Meter, born in Putnam County, Ohio to Elzey S. and Mary Van Meter in Pleasant Township.  Perry's siblings were Isaac C., Mary E., Susannah and Nancy.  Perry, born in 1837, married Anna M. Hollis on January 14, 1858 and they settled in Allen County, Ohio, where they appeared on the 1860 census.

Apparently, the family lived in Indiana for a time because their first child Harriet, was born in Tippecanoe County in 1862.  Perry enlisted in Company D, 189th Infantry, to fight in the Civil War.  He was discharged in August of 1865 and by 1870, the family lived in Carryall Township, Paulding County, Ohio, near Antwerp.  Sometime after 1880, the family moved to Sherwood, Ohio, in Defiance County where Perry either owned or worked at a meat market. His death record listed his occupation as butcher.  He died on April 29, 1888 and was buried in the Sherwood Cemetery.

Perry and Anna had six children, one of which was son, Cary B, who was born in 1870.  While living in Sherwood, Cary met and married Julia Miller, the daughter of Christian and Wilhelmina Miller.  Cary was a brakeman/conductor for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad until he moved to Ft. Wayne later where he worked as a conductor for the Nickle Plate Railroad.  Cary and his wife, Julia, had three children: Harry, Helen and Homer V.  This Homer V. was in the gang with John Dillinger and was killed by police in a gun battle in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1934. He was buried in Lindenwood Cemetery, Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
Homer V. VanMeter, Dillinger's friend

Cary also had a brother named Homer...Homer L.  Homer L. Van Meter would have been the uncle of Homer V. Van Meter, the gangster. Homer L. born on August 29, 1872, near Antwerp, attended school in Sherwood, but eventually moved to Ft. Wayne where he became a successful real estate agent.  He died on April 23, 1924 and was also buried at Lindenwood Cemetery.
www.findagrave.com   A short biography of Homer L.Van Meter's life may be found there.
Dan went on to do a more extensive study of the Van Meter family, linking it to the Walter John Miller family of Sherwood and the Duerk family of Defiance, through marriage to two Miller daughters.  Stories have been written of Homer Van Meter and John Dillinger visiting Defiance, but this story by Jack Palmer, the late columnist for the Defiance Crescent-News, told the story well:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Defiance County Pioneers - Joseph S. Bunnel

1830 - 1908

Thursday, May 7, 1908

Of Joseph S. Bunnel - Paralysis the Cause - The Oldest Resident of Hicksville.

Saturday morning our city was shocked to learn that Joseph S. Bunnel, the oldest resident of Hicksville, had died at his home on East High street at about 10:30 o'clock Friday night.  Mr. Bunnel had not been in robust health for some time but had been able to be about the house, walk down town, and attend to his chores.

Friday evening he had been to the barn to feed the chickens and on his return complained of feeling badly and went to bed.  It was soon discovered he had had a severe paralytic stroke and Dr. Cook was called.  He found the patient unconscious and unable to take any medicine.  He remained in that condition until 10:30 when he passed peacefully away.

Mr. Bunnel was one of the old landmarks of Hicksville, having come to this village in 1839.  He was a man of considerable means, honorable in all his dealings, industrious, faultless in character, and an honor to the village in which he has spent almost his entire life.  Deceased was 78 years of age."

Source: Obituaries: Pioneers of Northwest Ohio, Volume 1.  Carma Rowe Estate (Johnson Memorial Library).  No date.  p. 207.
 Copies available at Defiance Public Library and Hicksville and Sherwood branch libraries.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

St. John Catholic Church and St. Mary Catholic Church, Defiance, Ohio

From the Defiance Democrat, July 26, 1894...an article describing the beautiful churches and cemeteries of Defiance, Ohio


The first Catholic services were held in Defiance in 1844 at the private residence of Timothy Fitzpatrick, when Father Rappe held mass and preached.  In 1850, Defiance was made the center of its mission district.  In the interval between 1844 and 1850, various pastors visited Defiance.  Father Folfere, who now took charge, was the first residing pastor and remained here for two years.

In 1845, a frame church was built and was called the St. John's Catholic church.  In 1852, the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood, from Minster, Auglaize county, took charge of the mission.  The Sisters of their order also came at that time to conduct a school.

In 1855, Father Westerholt became pastor and remained until June 1850 (error).  In 1858, a new brick church was built.  The old church was moved to the lot where it now stands and serves as a school house.  Father Hoeffel succeeded Father Westerholt.  In 1869, the congregation became so large that an assistant was necessary and Father Maloney shared the labors of Father Hoeffel. 

In 1870, the church was completed and the sanctuary and upper parts of the walls were ornamented with beautiful stucco work.  Handsome pews were placed in the church, a good bell was bought, as was also the fine pipe organ, which cost $1,000.  In 1869, Father Viers took charge of the congregation until 1878 when he was succeeded by Father Young.  Father Gloden is the present pastor.

The members of the St. John's Catholic church are now erected a new church. The new church is to be a magnificent edifice, very elegant in all its appointments.  The principal societies of the church are:
St. Bonifacius Mutual Aid society, Catholic Knights of Ohio, Christian Mothers' society, Young Ladies Sodality, The Dramatic Club.

St. John Catholic Church - Ohio Memory project

In 1873 the St. John's Catholic church, being no longer large enough to accommodate its congregation, it was decided to divide the church into a German and English speaking congregation. A new church was therefore built and was complete in 1876.  It stood on the corner of Jefferson and Arabella streets.  The new church was a handsome one. It had handsome pews, beautiful stained glass windows, the walls were beautifully frescoed and hung with the pictures of saints.  The cost of the church of $30,000.  In 1892, a handsome spire was erected at a cost of $3200.  Rev. P. P. Mazuret was appointed pastor in 1875. On the 4th of January, Rev. Father M. P. Kinkead succeeded Rev. Mazuret and is pastor at the present time.

In 1893 a new pipe organ was purchased for $2,500.  There are about 200 families in attendance at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church at the present time.  The principal societies and the average membership are: The Catholic Knights of Ohio and the Catholic Knights of America with about forty-eight members.  The Married Ladies' Society with a membership of about fifty.  Infant Jesus Sodality for children, about eighty members.  Ladies' Aid society about forty members.

The St. Mary's Catholic school was built in 1885 and is a good brick building. It was placed under the charge of the Dominican Sisters.  There are about 200 children in attendance at the present time." 
St Mary Catholic church - postcard circa 1910

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Francis Ferdinand Mekus of Adams Township

From the Marckel Scrapbook...


Here is Francis Ferdinand Mekus, the man whose formula for living 100 years has drawn the attention and interest of people throughout the country.

 His instructions are: walk lots, eat less, play pinocle.  In other words, he has proved that proper exercise, temperate habits and wholesome pastimes are requisites of good health and long life."

 "Playing cards with his middle-aged sons and enjoying the festivities provided by 50 members of his family who gathered to celebrate Francis Ferdinand Mekus today, flung a challenge at Old Age, as he entered upon his 101st year.  
A century old today!

That distinction which comes to few inhabitants of this planet brought scores of neighbors and friends to the home of the pioneer, Adams township resident, where they joined a company of 50 relatives in wishing him the best returns of the day.

Says Mass of Front Porch
At 11 o'clock through special authority granted by Bishop Schrembs, Rev. Fr. G. Schmitz of St. Michael's Ridge church said mass on the front porch of the Mekus home, in an impressive service unique in the annals of this county. The entire veranda had been beautifully decorated with flowers, and the places of honor were held by the eleven children of Mr. Mekus, all of whom were present: 

Mrs. Mary Vernie, Toledo
Sister Fabiola, Lafayette, Ind.
Mrs. John Clemens, Defiance
Ferd Mekus, Jewell
Christ Mekus, Defiance, Rt. 4
John Mekus, Defiance, Rt. 3
Andrew Mekus, Defiance, Rt. 4
Frank Mekus, Defiance, Rt. 4
Henry Mekus,Defiance, Rt. 4
Mrs. John Coressel, Jewell, Rt. 2
Miss Josephine Mekus, Defiance, Rt. 4

Mass servers at the unusual religious service on the veranda of the house were four grandsons: Bernard Coressel, Hubert Mekus, Francis Mekus and Victor Mekus.
Following mass, dinner was served in the front yard under a big canvas which had been put up for the occasion, more than 50 members of the family partaking of the bountiful feast.  Besides his 11 children, Mr. Mekus has 28 grandchildren, and three great- grandchildren.

Born in Westphalia
Born in Westphalia, Germany in 1821, and coming to America in 1870, Mr. Mekus has seen a half century in each land.  He was already nine years old at the time King Charles was expelled from Brunswick, and was nearly grown to manhood when Frederick William III died in 1840, and was succeeded by his son as King of Prussia.  He saw the revolutionary movements of 1848, the construction of the German empire, the elevation of Wilhelm I to the throne, and the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war.

Then he came to America just as the seceded states were being restored to their full rights in the union, and witnessed the commercial and industrial development of the nation which led up to the opening of the present century.

Sees Changes in Country
Today, however, recalls to a great degree the changes he has witnessed in Defiance county in the past 50 years since he first took up his residence on 80 acres of woodland now owned by Henry Coressel, along the ridge in Adams township.  About a year later he moved to the farm on which he lives with his son, Andrew, and daughter, Josephine.

Most of the land around him was forest, and his sturdy physique was responsible for clearing many acres of the land which surrounds the present home.

Mr. Mekus was married Nov. 6, 1860, to Mary Ellert.  When they came to America ten years later, they brought with them six of the children who were among the celebrants at today's festivities.  The five younger children were born in Adams township.  Mrs. Mekus died in 1902.

Pinochle has been Mr. Mekus's favorite pastime for many years.  He has always said he would play pinochle on his 100th birthday.  
And he did." 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sometimes You Have to Look a Little Deeper

Some of the best finds in genealogy are those that are hidden in places we don't expect.  In looking at an old journal that recorded Partnerships, Licenses, and Land Contracts, with most dated 1852-1854, I found one will and one apprenticeship agreement.  Both of those are of interest to genealogists, but probably would not have been found in the usual quest for information at the Records Center of the county.

 Page 3 and 5 of the journal contained a document concerning an insurance matter, while page 4 - yes, nestled in the midst of the other document - held the will of Hannah Noffsinger, written December 26, 1851. 
Her will:

"In the name of the Benevolent .... Amen.  I, Hannah Noffsinger of Richland township, Defiance county and state of Ohio, being of Sound mind and memory do make and publish this, my last will and testament.
I give and bequeath until Jonathan Lengle all of my property, both real and personal, of which I may be possessed at my decease (save) exceptions hereafter made to his heirs forever.  And it my will that the said Jonathan Lengle  pay one hundred Dollars each to Eliza Heck, Joseph Heck and William Frances Heck so soon as they arrive at majority out of my estate and in case of the decease of either of the said Eliza, Joseph and William Frances Heck (Save) Hecks heirs of Lewis Heck) then and in the case it is my will that the said Jonathan Lengle retain for his own use the amount that would have been said deceised.

I do nomanate Jonathan Lengle my Lonin law and chief legatee to be the  executor of this my last will and testament, testimony where of I have to this my last will and testament subscribed my name and afixed my Seal this twenty sixth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty one. 
Hannah (her mark x) Noffsinger
Signed, Sealed & Delivered, published by the Said Hannah Noffsinger as for her last will and testament...of us who at her request, and in the presence and in prisence of each other, Subscribed our names as witnesses.
Rec'd for Record Feb. 3d, 1852 at one o'clock P. M.
Recorded Feb. 4th, 1852
Signed B. B. Abell and Jacob Hines
J. B. Heatley, Recorder

In the 1850 census, Hannah was living in Richland Twp. with Jonathan Lingle, his wife, Mary, and their son, John, 7.
I would guess that Mary was Hannah's daughter.  Living in Highland Twp. in 1850 was the Heck family - Lewis and his wife, Barbara, and their children, Eliza and Joseph. Was Barbara also Hannah's daughter? Perhaps William Frances was born between the time the family was enumerated and the time the will was written. Hannah was reported as 44 years old in the 1850 census.
In Hire Cemetery, Defiance County, there is a tombstone for Hannah Noffsinger with a death date transcribed by someone as Jan. 26, 1832, but perhaps it was misread as a 32 rather than a 52.  It would make sense that the Hannah Noffsinger who wrote her will in December, perhaps because she was sick and expected death, might have died just a month later.  Then the will was presented to the court in February.

The indenture papers were found on pages 13 and 14 of that same journal and dated in 1853.

Indenture of Apprenticeship between Napoleon B. Y Schamp and Barnet Stotler and Manuel B. Schamp.  Witnesseth that the same Manuel B. Schamp, aged nine years on the third day of June A. D. 1854 by and with the consent of said Napoleon B. Schamp, his Father, hath and doth hereby bind himself as an apprentice unto the said Barnet Stotler until the third day of June A. D. 1866 from the date thereof to learn the trade and occupation of blacksmith. And the same Manuel B. Schamp by his said father, doth hereby covenant with said Barnet Stotler to faithfully serve him and correctly demean himself during the term of his apprenticeship.  

And the said Barnet Stotler doth hereby covenant with the said Napoleon B. Y Schamp and Manuel B. Schamp and each of them that he will teach the said Manuel B. Schamp the said trade and occupation and will provide him during said apprenticeship with meat, lodging, medics, inc. washing clothing and all other necessities suitable for an apprentice and will teach or cause him to be taught to read and write and so much arithmetic as will include the single rule of three and at the experation of said term of service, will furnish the said Manuel B. Schamp with a new Bible and at least two suits of common working apparel.

In testimony whereof the parties have hereunto set their hands and seals this twenty fourth day of October in the year Eighteen hundred and fifty three.
Attest - Geo.H Wilson
Napoleon B. Schamp
Barnet Stotler (his mark)
Manuel B. Schamp (his mark)
Read & Rec'd on Nov. 12, 1853

By the mutual consent of Napoleon B. Y Schamp and Barnet Stotler, the parties to the then indenture of the apprenticeship of Manuel Schamp, is this day ends and this within Indenture is hereby canceled this 22nd day of July A. D. 1854."  

 It was heartbreaking to know this 9 year old boy was being indentured for 12 years, or until he reached 21.  How nice it was to read that, for whatever reason, the indenture was cancelled 8 months later.  Perhaps it just didn't work out or the parties moved on?  I could not find these folks in either the 1850 or 1860 census in Defiance County.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Defiance County Pioneers - Dr. and Mrs. Rakestraw

Dr. Benjamin M. Rakestraw
1818 - 1899
Christiana Albertson Rakestraw
1834 - 1906

"The funeral of Dr. B. M. Rakestraw was held in the Presbyterian church last Friday afternoon.  It was very largely attended, both from this immediate neighborhood and abroad.  Brother physicians attended in a body, and the audience was remarkable for the number of aged people who were present...

Deceased was a faithful member and worker in the M.E. church for a half century, and was among the organizers of the first Sunday school in Hicksville.

Benjamin M. Rakestraw was born December 19, 1818, at Goshen, Columbiana county, Ohio.  He came to Hicksville in 1846 and remained here until his death, which occurred Tuesday evening, April 25, 1899, being at the time of his death, aged 80 years, 4 months, and 6 days.  He leaves a wife and two daughters, Mrs. Sam Boon of this place, and Mrs. Rineman of Salem, Oregon. These latter by former companions**.

The shock of the sudden and unexpected death has not yet been gotten over by the family and many friends.  Deceased attended church Sunday and all the meetings of the various societies.  He went about his occupation all day Monday and Tuesday, giving no sign of the sudden end, except that he had not been feeling quite so well for a couple of weeks.  He ate a usual hearty supper and went to his office as was his habit.  When Wesley Bachelor dropped in and chatted and laughed with him, he appeared as well as usual until while laughing heartily, the shock came.

Among the many sad features surrounding the case, it is a source of gratification that Mrs. Rakestraw reached him and held his head while the last breath left his body.  She who had been his companion for about forty years was thus by his side to the last.

The remains were take to Forest Home and just as the evening sun was taking its good night look over old earth, he was laid away.  While the casket was being lowered into the grave, the M. E. choir sang the beautiful hymn of the deceased, 'Home, Sweet Home.' "

 **Dr. Rakestraw had four wives: Esther Hughes, Caroline Taylor, Clarissa Wells Ensign and his last, Christiana Albertson.

Source: Obituaries: Pioneers of Northwest Ohio, Volume I.  Carma Rowe Estate, Johnson Memorial Library.  No date. Page 62. 
Copies available at the Defiance Public Library and the Sherwood and Hicksville branches. 

Christiana, daughter of Edward and Abigail Albertson, was born near Fredericksburg, Wayne County, Ohio, March 22, 1834.  She came with her parents to Hicksville, O. in the spring of 1855 and this has been her home for 50 years.

When twenty seven years old, she was married to Dr. B. M. Rakestraw in 1851, and entered at once upon the care of his home and three motherless children.  Since the death of her husband in April 1899, she has journeyed on alone, caring for business affairs that fell to her lot with patience and ability.

For a long time, her health was failing and during the last six or seven months, she suffered much, particularly of late with an incurable malady of the stomach.  The end came peacefully about 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, 1906, her age being 72 years, 4 months and 29 days.  

Mrs. Rakestraw was the fifth child in the family of seven daughters and one son.  Only two of the family survive her: Mrs. Sarah Ann Dowell, residing 1 mile southeast of Hicksville and Mrs. Ruth C. Kinmont.  Two of Dr. Rakestraw's children survive her: Mrs. Rebecca Boon of this place and Mrs. Carrie Rhineman of Salem, Oregon.  All these are well known people of the community.  The other child of Dr. Rakestraw, Mrs. Shelton, passed away a few years ago.

When yet a child, Mrs. Rakestraw united with the Methodist Episcopal Church of which she was ever after a staunch member.  When the family moved to Hicksville, her membership was transferred here also.  At that time and for some time after, the Methodist church of this place was composed of women only - not a man in it.  The burdens fell on the few loyal women.  The death of Mrs. Rakestraw leaves but two of that heroic band - Mrs. Hannah Simpson and Mrs. Dr. Kinmont.  They used to worship in the little frame school house on High street where the wagon shop stands on the corner next to the Presbyterian church.  Mrs. Rakestraw often cared for the house when the services were held, carrying wood from her home for the fires, and furnishing the lights and building the fires.  She was a regular attendant at the prayer meeting as well as the more public church services.

In the days when Hicksville's Methodism belonged to a circuit and the pastors resided elsewhere, the home of Mrs. Rakestraw was the stopping place for the preacher.  They frequently entertained people of note who visited Hicksville.  Gov. Foster and other public men being numbered among the guests of those days.  

She was interested in the work of the church, giving it such aid as she felt she could.  In the disposition of her property, she remembered both kindred and church, bequeating substantial aid to the local church, the Methodist Home for the aged and the great Missionary cause.  

Her suffering was intense, but she was patient and resigned.  She longed to depart and be at rest.  The funeral was held at the residence on Main street, Thursday at 4 p.m., Aug. 23, 1906, her pastor, D. F. Helms, having charge.  The body was laid to rest by that of her husband in Forest Home Cemetery."

Source: Obituaries: Pioneers of Northwest Ohio, Volume I.  Carma Rowe Estate, Johnson Memorial Library.  No date. Page 63. 
Copies available at the Defiance Public Library and the Sherwood and Hicksville branches.