If you have no interest in genealogy or family history, do yourself a favor and skip this post. It’s long.
Working on our family research is a big part of my life, so I can’t call this blog “allthingsrobin” without talking about it from time to time. Today’s story recounts a local Richmond woman who was my husband’s 3rd cousin once removed (don’t understand all that relationship stuff? Just Google it, there are a number of explanations on the internet).
When we moved to Richmond it was a job transfer only, we had no idea there had ever been any family living here. I was gifted with a photocopy of some family information that had been written down by another relative, long deceased, by one of my mother-in-law’s cousins . That paper said that William R. ETTENGER, a brother of my husband’s great-grandmother, Julia ETTENGER HESS, had lived in Richmond. The ETTENGER family originated in Philadelphia, so far as I’ve been able to determine, so a relative in Richmond was pretty exciting.
William ETTENGER lived in Richmond from 1850 to his death in 1895. He was part owner of several different companies here, most notably ETTENGER & EDMONDS, who manufactured steam fire engines. I’ve read several historic newspaper accounts of this company and they even went to St. Petersburg, Russia to sell their products. One article said that they supplied Richmond’s first steam fire engine. He and his family lived on E. Broad St. which is in a neighborhood called Church Hill (because it’s hilly and the famous St. John’s Church is there). The modest house is still there. The company was located at 19th and Franklin which is in Shockoe Bottom. I’m not sure if the building is still there. An 1870 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch talked about a great flood of the James River and the company was listed as one whose building(s) were flooded and sustained damage. The company apparently also was a foundry that produced armaments during the Civil War.
Researching William and his descendants several years ago led me to one of his great-great-grandsons who lives (or did at the time) not far from us and his two daughters went to high school with my daughter. Cue more excitement. I’d never lived near anyone I was researching before.
But the subject of this story is one of William’s great-granddaughters, Beulah ETTENGER COBBS. Born in 1918 in Lawrenceville, Brunswick County, Virginia (between South Hill and Emporia, near the North Carolina line), Beulah was the daughter of Laura Belle ETTENGER, who was the daughter of Joseph Harry ETTENGER, who was the son of William and Mary ETTENGER. I was noodling around in the historical newspapers on GenealogyBank.com this weekend (you need a paid subscription for this) and found several society articles about Beulah. She attended what is today Longwood College in Farmville (I think it was a teacher’s college then), visited her grandparents in Lawrenceville several times, got engaged to a local minister, had several bridal showers and then married Howard Clinton COBBS in 1942.
What struck me was that in so many of these articles, her mother was mentioned but never her father. And Beulah was always called ETTENGER. According to the 1920 census, Laura Belle was married, living with her parents and her daughter, but no husband. She was listed as an ETTENGER and so was Beulah. In 1930 and 1940 Laura Belle was listed as divorced. I got to wondering if she had actually really married; back in those days an out-of-wedlock baby would have been shameful so it would have been easy to tell the census taker she was married or divorced. There were probably a lot of tongue-waggers in their small town. One with a secret had to be careful.
But as I did more research on Beulah, I found that she died in January of 2013 at the age of 94. I found her obituary online at the Harrisonburg (VA) Daily News-Record. She and Howard had two sons, one of whom lives in my old stomping grounds out in California. But what caught my eye was the notation in the article that Beulah was the daughter of Laura Belle ETTENGER-CALLAHAN. No mention of a father. This was the first time I’d seen Laura Belle with a different name, had she remarried?
This is where I could give you a “long story short” explanation, but I won’t. I looked all over ancestry.com (subscription service) for Laura Belle Callahan and came up with nothing. And here’s your lesson for today, don’t limit yourself to just searching through Ancestry and Familysearch: I Googled Laura Belle’s name and up popped an entry from an index at the website of the Library of Virginia. A 1921 chancery court record from Mecklenburg County VA that listed Eddie L. Callahan as the plaintiff and Laura Belle Callahan as the defendant. Of the other names mentioned in the record, one was ETTENGER. Bingo! I found Eddie in the 1920 census, listed as single, living with his parents and siblings. Remember, Laura Belle was listed as married that year. Interesting. This gave more credence to my theory of the out-of-wedlock baby. But I needed a record of the purported marriage, or a divorce. Virginia’s vital records are not very open, so I didn’t think I’d be able to get either one of those, if they existed.
I work within walking distance of the Library of Virginia, so I went over there on my lunch hour today. I found the chancery record, the original paperwork from 1921, not even on microfilm. I didn’t know what to expect but I was hoping it was a divorce. And it was. Yippee! Included in the file was Eddie’s deposition, their 1917 marriage certificate and the testimonies of 2 character witnesses for Eddie. There was nothing from Laura Belle’s side of the story.
According to Eddie, he was working out in the fields on his parents’ farm when a car pulled up to the house and Laura Belle and her mother got out. Laura Belle went in, got out a suitcase and started packing. Eddie was apparently blind-sided; he asked her why she was leaving and she didn’t answer him, except to say that she was going back to live with her parents. This was in May of 1918, she was already pregnant with Beulah (he knew that) but only later heard through the grapevine that a baby had been born. He never got to see his daughter, who was referred to in the documentation as Beulah Callahan. He asked the court to release him from the marriage and any commitment for child support. Apparently both were granted.
According to Eddie and his character witnesses, he was a model husband. I wish Laura Belle’s deposition, if there was one, had been included to explain her abandonment of Eddie as he described it. But I can take away from this that there must have been something about Eddie or the marital situation she found herself in that made her want to get out after only 6 months, take back her maiden name and give it to her daughter. I wonder if Beulah ever got to meet her father. Obviously her children must have known about him because of the notation in her obituary. A little more research on Eddie shows that he remarried and had several children.
From Beulah’s obituary and the news articles when she was young, I think I would have liked her a lot (she was Presbyterian, after all LOL). There is a picture on her findagrave memorial: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=103174984. She looks like a nice lady.
#Ettenger #Callahan #Mecklenburg #Boydton #Brunswick #Lawrenceville #Virginia #EttengerandEdmonds