52 Ancestors – Disaster

The story of my 2nd great grandparents, Dennis Holden and Phoebe Clark, of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, Indiana, and their children is a tragic one.

Dennis and Phoebe married 1860 in Lawrenceburg, where they lived for a time, their first child being born there. Dennis, a miller, found work at the P. Lamb and Co. Distillery in Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where the next child (and probably the third) was born. By 1870 the family had moved to Sedamsville [now Cincinnati], Hamilton County, Ohio, where Dennis worked for yet another distillery.

Phoebe died, aged 35, 6 Dec 1876, in Sedamsville. Her obituary, 14 Dec 1876, read:

“Holden, Mrs. Dennis
“The remains of the wife of Dennis Holden were brought here [Lawrenceburg] for burial on Friday last, from Sedamsville. About nine days before her death, she gave birth to a child and never recovered her health. She leaves a husband and four or five children. [emphasis mine] She was a daughter of Hiram Clark of this place.”

Lawrenceburg (IN) Press, 14 Dec 1876, clipping from Lawrenceburg Public Library District.

Unable to care for his children, Dennis farmed them out; all but one found far and wide in the 1880 census:

  • James “Clarence,” oldest child and my great grandfather, went to his mother’s sister in Cynthiana, Kentucky, where he met the woman who would become his wife and my great grandmother. Clarence was a barber who lived first in Cincinnati, and later, after his marriage, in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he died in 1944. His marriage to my great grandmother was a happy one until her early death at 46 years old.
  • Edward Lafayette, the second son, whom I have not found in 1880, like his older brother, became a barber, first in Cincinnati and later in Terre Haute, dying there in 1908. He married late and it was not a happy marriage nor blessed with children.
  • Harry, the third son, was sent to Dennis’s paternal aunt in Green Bay, Lee County, Iowa. He made his way back to the Cincinnati area in 1890, then to Terre Haute in 1896, and eventually to Los Angeles, California, where he died in 1939 alone after two failed marriages.
  • Maude, born 1873, went to a Shaker village in Turtle Creek, outside Lebanon, Warren County, Ohio. By 1887 she lived with her brother Clarence in Terre Haute. Maude married in 1893 in Terre Haute, and with her husband, moved to Gary, Lake County, Indiana, where she died in 1950. Their marriage endured and one child was born.
  • Elizabeth, born 27 Nov 1876 in Sedamsville, the fifth child, whose birth resulted in Phoebe’s death, was sent to Dennis’s first cousin, Omer Wiley, whose marriage was childless, in Jefferson Township, Switzerland County, Indiana, where she was raised as “Lou Wiley.” By 1896 Omer and family had moved to Cincinnati. Elizabeth had a succession of three husbands in fifteen years: the first whom she married in 1897, two years after their (and her only) child was born, and divorced by 1900; the second, whose name her child adopted, married in 1902 and divorced soon after; and the third (and final), married in 1915, Carl Geiser. Living first in Cincinnati, Elizabeth and Carl moved to Terre Haute in 1922, then Gary in 1927, and finally, in 1935, to Los Angeles where they died, she in 1949, he in 1950.

Dennis himself lived in 1880 as a boarder in Mount Jackson, just west of Indianapolis. He worked as a miller, possibly in a local distillery, where other boarders in the household worked. He did not remain there long. In 1882 while working at the distillery in Petersburg, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Dennis suffered a severe injury to his arm requiring amputation and ultimately causing his death from “lockjaw” [tetanus] on 7 April.

How traumatic it must have been for the children to have lost their mother at such young ages, then to have lost each other, and in a very short time to have lost their father. They were reunited, perhaps by the efforts of my great grandfather, each living, for a time, in Terre Haute where Clarence had made his home.

The search for and research of this family is another story. Many lessons learned along the way. To be told some other time…