Tag Archives: Indiana

Gerald’s dream cabin

While thumbing thru my farm paper of things to trade or sell
you never know what you may find – maybe an old dinner bell.
So page by page I kept turning, not knowing what the next would bring,
when towards the very end I found a very special thing.
Behold a picture of a pond with a cabin at the end.
So I looked and looked at this picture and thought,
what a great place to have some time to spend.
My mind began wandering and dreaming of
warm summer days and eves with a gentle breeze,
trying to forget the winter when the pond was apt to freeze.
Thinking what a quiet and peaceful place to be,
this little pond and cabin, just for you and me.

Gerald Meek

Poem provided by his daughter, Vivian Meek Bibler.



Joshua’s letter to daughter Ruby

Examining letters, both for their content and their handwriting, can provide insights into personality, as I’ve contended in two earlier posts.

The outbreak of the Civil War ended Joshua Hodson’s education in North Carolina around the third grade, unlike his second wife, Alice McSherry Hodson, who was certified as a schoolteacher.

I examined one letter from him in a previous post, and later did the same for a letter from Alice.

Seeing a second letter in his hand, thanks to Vivian Meek Bibler, opens more insights. He sent this to Ruby at business school.

Here’s my rough transcription, trying to correct some of the spelling but maintaining as much of the spoken quality as possible, and occasionally guessing at a word. I left the lack of punctuation, feeling it gives a closer flow of his voice:

Spiceland, Ind.

July 20th, 1923

Dear Ruby I thought I would write you a few lines while my dinner cooks I have a beef roast on and I am cooking potatoes in some of the broth wish you were here to help me eat it. I suppose mom is seeing sister today in the Windy City there isn’t much news to write about they are talking [?] some but I don’t think it will amount to anything the Klan men are going to have a parade tonight at N.C. I think I shall go. Mom said if I wrote to you I should tell you that she could not find any pictures that she thought you wanted your grades are very good I think for the first two weeks I will send them to you. I seen Else H this AM up town but did not talk to her any she had got to staying out with Bob Griffin until one and two in the morning so I am told. I must go and attend to my dinner it is 11:15 and I will finish this PM. Dinner is over. I am not working now Jim Cray came and wanted me to help reroof John [?]’s house but I told him it was too hot for me on a roof I was not going. I imagine you almost roast in the school room these days

I made some inquiry at the PO job it pays $14.00 per month some price isn’t it. I do not know how it will be but I noticed in your last letter you said your work is hard I suppose that will be the case all along but you remember no doubt what you have read that there is no excellency without great labor and that is what we may all expect if we ever reach the goal. So don’t get discouraged but push ahead even if you don’t make as rapid strides as you would like to. You will come out all right in the end. I have written all I can think of so I will close write soon your Father


In doing genealogy, it’s important to examine all of the facts, positive and negative.

The reference to the Klan march is jarring, especially to modern readers who are unfamiliar with the fact that the organization flourished in the early 1920s through much of the Midwest and West as an advocate of Prohibition, reactionary populism, and right-wing politics that appealed to many Protestant communities. For perspective, the march in question could have been part of a political rally arousing Joshua’s curiosity or entertainment more than his sympathy. By the end of the decade, the Klan rapidly declined.

The mention of a sister-in-law in Chicago is a new twist. Alice had two sisters, Sarah A., a teacher who never married and was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Brookville in the family plot, and Mary R., a milliner who also apparently never married. I find nothing more on her at this point, so I’ll guess that she had moved to Chicago.

I’m also amused that Joshua’s closure makes no mention that he’s running out of paper, as well.

The twins

The twins Ruth Anna and Ruby Althea were born February 21, 1903, to Joshua and Alice McSherry Hodson. Ruby became the grandmother of Vivian Meek Bibler, who provided these baby portraits.

I was curious about how one girl had all the hair – including the hereditary Hodson curls that never made it down to me – while the other had only the fuzz.

The question prompted this response:

“Grandma Ruby is the little one – she always said her sister took up so much space she had to be small.  Grandma was 76 pounds and 4′-8” in her 90s .  We were shopping in the little girls department for her clothes. Ruth is the taller one.  It makes me laugh that they were dressed so alike!

“Ruth has all the hair – she was always the taller and larger one.  It almost looks like a wig!”

Do we file this under Sibling Rivalry?

These connections keep adding up

Sometimes the best part of a blog is found in the comments posted by its readers, an exchange that has a special twist in a genealogy venture like this one. The twist is in the joy of meeting “new” kin, some closer on the chart to me than others, but always a delight. Better yet is when they, too, add to the content, as Michael Hodgson did most recently with the stories leading us across the frontier to the Pacific Northwest.

More recently, it’s led to delightful conversation with Vivian Meek Bibler, a second cousin from the “Indiana side” of my Hodson line. If we had ever met, it would have been a few times, at most, as children.

My own project has, in effect, had two centers of focus. The first, the starting point, was Joshua Francis Hodson, who moved to Indiana and Ohio from North Carolina after the Civil War. The second was George Hodgson, the boy who arrived in America as an orphan and eventually moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina before the Revolutionary War. Connecting them was an exciting breakthrough.

Vivian and I both descend from Joshua and his second wife, Alice McSherry, and we both have memories of family reunions that included descendants from his first wife, Josephine Jones, who died of complications after the birth of their second child, who died shortly after.

Vivian’s grandmother – and my great-aunt – was Ruby Althea Meek.

In revisiting my materials, I was startled by her middle name. It’s one I thought I was encountering for the first time only in the past decade, where it’s the first name of some delightful Greek Orthodox women in New Hampshire.

But to back up, as I now see, looking at the charts, I’d dutifully typed it long ago, where Alice apparently drew the name from her sister-in-law, Althea Bayler McSherry. Naming patterns, as I’ve remarked in previous posts, can be very helpful in doing genealogy, especially when traditional patterns are maintained. In this case, I’m supposing Alice had a special fondness for her sister-in-law.

The charts for Alice’s generation also remind me of a number of holes and even hint at a few scandals. I’ll leave those for others to pursue and report on.

Vivian has graciously sent along materials I hadn’t seen but that we’ll be sharing here in the coming months.

She also has me vaguely recalling family reunions at the farm in Indiana, even a feeling of the flowered wallpaper in the farmhouse and an introduction to some of the animals beside the barn – just don’t ask me if they were cows, sheep, or horses, my only surviving impression is that they were big. Also, I was scarred of a man who must have been gentle great-uncle Samuel, with his Amish-like beard and clothing.

That said, I still hope to hear from Hodgson kin who settled around Wilmington, Ohio, or in Indiana before Joshua joined in their migration. There’s much more of the Orphan George story to uncover. My, when I started this, I didn’t even know they existed.

Into the Great Black Swamp

Grandpa’s funeral struck the first crack in my assumptions of his background. His obituary said he was born in Van Wert, Ohio. I stared at the entry. I thought he had told me he was born just northwest of Dayton, “on a farm where Wolf Creek originates.” Only after my dad’s funeral would I realize that farm must have been where Dad was born, instead. And when Grandpa had nodded, over there, maybe he didn’t actually mean the farm in immediate view on that road north of Brookville, but rather a farm somewhere on its far side.

Still, this was the first clue I had that Grandpa hadn’t originated in Montgomery County, but four counties to the north, in the heart of what had been the Great Black Swamp. By now, I had already lived a couple of years in another corner of the swamp’s former expanse – some of America’s richest farmland, once it was drained in the late 1800s. Settled nearly three-quarters of a century after the land around Dayton, this was a place long prone to malaria – and then, to an oil boom, like those of Oklahoma and Texas. When Grandpa was born, it was still newly developing country – much of it only a generation or so – rather than long settled.

But how did he begin there? To understand that requires uncovering something of his grandparents, which I explain in depth in earlier posts on this blog.

In brief, the lives of both of my grandpa and grandma’s paternal grandparents would have centered on distinctive religious communities – for the Hodsons, the Quakers, formally known as the Society of Friends as well as just Friends; for the Ehrstines, it was the Dunkers, or German Baptist Brethren, before their branch emerged as the Church of the Brethren. Other strands would include the Brethren Church and the Grace Brethren – but not the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (generally known simply as United Brethren) and the River Brethren, or Brethren in Christ, which also play significant roles in the family history. Again, you’ll find these detailed in earlier posts.

I knew none of this at the time of Grandpa’s funeral. We were simply homogenous Midwesterners, awash in the middle class of America. Only later would I see how the very practice of simplicity and humility was a distinctive tradition now obscured by its very essence. Unconsciously, I was mourning the loss that accompanied their assimilation – the blackout of two legacies of focused living that had spanned nearly two centuries on this continent.

Even before Grandpa’s funeral, the large family Bible – later re-enforced by Grandma’s notes – had provided a few more clues about the Hodsons. Grandpa’s parents were Joshua and Alice McSherry Hodson, and Joshua was the son of Pleasant and Eunice Osban Hodson. But that was as far as it went, and there were no locations – no hint, especially, of the Tar Heel generations.

Alice, meanwhile, was Joshua’s second wife. His first, Josephine Jones Hodson, had died of complications after the birth of their second son, Kyle. Only their first son, Samuel, survived.

Continue reading Into the Great Black Swamp

Back to the countryside

Grandpa’s final years were spent in a brick ranch house set in a loop amid fields along the National Road. Through this period, we seldom saw each other. I came down, from another corner of the state, with my fiancee when he remarried. And later, after our return from the Pacific Northwest and resettlement in another corner of the state, we came down for his funeral, conducted by two members of their church. “They nearly converted me,” my then-wife said afterward. His widow, meanwhile, said, “Don’t those hymns really move you? Don’t they really say it all?” Referring to the heavy vibrato electronic organ, rather than any singing we might have done.

He had married another woman with impressive Brethren roots. Another Capricorn, for that matter. “A good Christian woman,” as he put it. I remember a somber woman with two gracious sons, and rumors of some conflict with one of my cousins.

There were more trips to California, too, with his preference for Knotts Berry Farm rather than Disneyland.

Perhaps this was a time of reflection for him, before he collapsed and died while shaving.

We did not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, or tell certain kinds of stories the way others did. We did not gamble, that I can tell. We did not party much, at least not in the raucous, outgoing, overbearing way that brings the police. We were not wealthy and did not live in the classier parts of town, either. In short, we were – and still are – a rather simple people. With some pretty good reasons.

About all we seemed to have was this odd, seemingly rare, six-letter name. Not as rare, it turns out, as I had thought. But still uncommon enough to cause problems: a name others often misspelled as Hudson or, as I could never understand, as Hodgson, with a g. Yet, as cousin Floyd Hodson has remarked, “A name is something we should live up to, wear with pride, constantly strive to upgrade its identity, let it always stand for honesty.” He adds: “I think the name Hodson has done all of these things. I’ve never been ashamed to introduce a Hodson to anyone. My name, because of the value and high standards given to it by my ancestors, has been one of my most valuable possessions.”

When I was an intern reporter at the Journal Herald in Dayton, I was surprised at the number of times I encountered the response, “Oh, you’re Marion’s boy,” or, “Are you any relation to James the plumber?” – to which would be added: “They’re a good family.”

But what does that mean?

Perhaps it was simply the lack of talk about anyplace else that misled me.

I do not recall hearing, as a child, many stories of my family roots – at least beyond my grandparents. My Hodson line seemed to possess little in the way of music, literature, or the visual arts, other than a generic Protestant religiosity and plastic-fork consumerism.

At any rate, searching for family roots was something I would have shied away from. In the end, each individual must assume responsibility for his own destiny, regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of genetic endowment. What is the good of finding distant linkage to royalty or fame unless estates or lost fortunes are involved? There is ego gratification, of course, but that urge entails risk: consider those who set out with high hopes that quickly shatter when they discover an ancestor hanged as a horse thief or that their good Christian name exposes relatively recent Jewish descent. At such points the quest is usually dropped. For others, genealogical investigation is a form of ancestor worship; frankly, I can think of better ways of spending eternity than being bound to legions sharing a surname.

Yet some curiosity remained. As Floyd observed in his letter: “When we think or speak of a name, we immediately think of those people’s characteristics, their habits, their personalities, and everything [else] that makes up every fiber of their being and [whether] it adds up to good or bad.”

During a visit home during Dad’s long decline to Alzheimer’s, I worshipped at a pastoral Friends meeting, rather than my more traditional “silent” variety. When an older woman asked why I chose them rather than another meeting nearby, I explained briefly that I enjoyed experiencing the other kinds of Quakers – and besides, I had the book, meaning a thorough oral history of the congregation and its town before they were relocated by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam project. She gazed at me and said, “It’s fiction. It’s all fiction.”

I keep coming back to this matter of identities and their influences. I think it’s often easier to say who or what we’re not than who or what we are, exactly. At least the negative list will always be muc­h longer than the positive one. And that’s not even touching on what we’d like to be. But we can also look to the ways and times our personalities are revealed through relationship – or even opposition to another. Or, as the local rabbi asks, why do we keep telling the same stories – what keeps drawing us back to the Biblical dramas?

Self-identities and a sense of importance do shape us.

Going through my files, I find a later, undated note to me headed, “Formerly Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber, Now Just Grandpa Hodson.” Until TJ had asked if I knew his slogan, this entry was entirely baffling. Now, in context, he observes “a bit of joy comes as I realize I am one – only one – of ‘Those Shriners.’ That reminds me of what my good friend Dr. Gregory once said, ‘After all there is nothing much more valuable than a host of Christian friends.’

“Lots of good old fashioned Preble County love.”

This, after he had sold the house in Dayton and retired across the county line in Lewisville.

At last the meaning comes clear. All these years later.

*   *   *

Who would describe himself as a leading Republican plumber today? Not after Watergate, when “Republican plumber” became a euphemism for buglar, the band of bungling former spies and thugs actively attempting to subvert open elections and American democracy. A “Republican plumber” was even a CREEP, thanks to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Watergate, the hotel and office complex, itself carried a biting irony in this matter: “water gate” was originally a kind of plumbing.

Not that the Grand Old Party hasn’t tried. In 2008, the John McCain presidential campaign floated “Joe the Plumber,” touting Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher as just another regular Ohio man. A plumber, however, who wasn’t licensed and inexplicably had an income far above what any hourly wage would provide or an average homeowner could afford.

Of course, the Republican Party was transmuting from the party of Lincoln and Hoover into its opposite.

Dayton, too, is not what it was.

My attitude toward the bubbling Christmas tree candle lights has changed, too. They become somehow appropriate for a plumber’s Christmas tree, or perhaps even our own, which will never have tinsel. (My wife’s style is folk arts, unlike theirs.) As the owner of a house built about the same time as their McOwen street home, I’ve come to treasure a good plumber. The range of required skills for maintaining an old structure far exceeds my own, and with Rick, our carpenter and electrician, we’ve uncovered too many examples of people in over their heads over the years; it’s a wonder the kitchen roof never blew off in a nor’easter or blizzard.

In all of this, as I probe my memories of Grandpa and Grandma, I also sense a legion of ghosts behind them – not apparitions, exactly, but rather the people who were already old when they were small: connections from the years before automobiles and farm tractors became commonplace. This, I will argue, is their essence – something they knew they had lost, much the way Adam and Eve sensed deep loss in their expulsion from Eden. Of course, Grandpa and Grandma would openly admit that farming was never an Eden, not with so much endless hard labor. And like Adam and Eve, something was both lost and gained in moving on. Even so, in our Sunday afternoon visits to Grandma’s sister and her family, we returned to something unspeakably fundamental and true – the farm, set so close to so many other family connections.

(William) Elias Hodgson

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

Grandfather Elias (originally William Elias) filed on a homestead somewhere in the Middle West without ever “proving up”, so when he came out here he filed again but to avoid any possible complication, he filed under the name Elias J. and went by that name from then on.

I don’t know the exact amount of education that Grandad had, but it was undoubtedly more than most people had in those days. From what Dad said of him, I gather he was neither a very practical or forceful person.

Back in the 1850’s and/or 1860’s’ when men were men and women wore hoop skirts and possibly bustles, „eddication‟ was well though of up to a point. The point was ‘the double rule of three’ (long division) and McGuffy’S Fifth Reader. Any fool knew that more ‘larnin’ than that was a waste of time and anyone who wanted more than that was considered a bit queer and something of a joke.

I can’t say, but it is my understanding that Elias did attend several different schools and finally graduated from Grinell College in Iowa (perhaps, only one year). After Elias had, been away to school for a while he came home for a short vacation, Christmas perhaps. After he had been home for a short while, his rheumatic “old Grandad struggled up out of his chair and, leaning on his cane, he says, “‘Lias, there is something out at the barn I want to show you..” Elias said, “All right,” and the old boy went his tottering way out to the barn with Elias following. When they entered the barn door, it was rather dark in there, but Grandad focused, his dim eyes upon the wall, pointing his cane, he says, “‘Lias, what is that thing up there?” says, Elias looked and says. “Why, that’s a horseshoe, Grandad.”  The old fellow cackled in great glee. “What a power of good a little larnin’ does. I wouldn’t have known it from a mare’s shoe!”

From what Dad told me, I don’t get the impression that Grandpa’s higher education ever served him to any very practical purpose; nevertheless, I imagine he got a lot of personal satisfaction from it.

When he was about twenty, he tried teaching a country school in Indiana. He was somewhat puny at the time and was thought by his relatives to be a probable victim of tuberculosis. In any event, he did not have the physical force to hold down the teaching job. A bunch of overgrown boys in their late teens or early twenties simply ran him out. To get the picture of what he had to contend with, read “The Hoosier Schoolmaster” by Edward Eggleston.

What after that, I am not sure. He went to Iowa where he met and married Sabina Bond — one of the ten daughters of Reverend Bond, a Quaker minister. She had six sisters and three half-sisters. Two of her sisters — Amanda and Hannah — married men named Jessup and later moved to California. Sabina’s mother (maiden name Kollens) I believe was either German born or of German extraction. Grandma Sabina had brown eyes, red hair, and a very volatile temperament, was very religious and had extremely Victorian attitudes as to dress, speech and morality. She would never roll her sleeves up, even to wash the dishes!

One of her peculiarities that Dad used to rave about was that she was always entertaining the preacher and would never cook a hen unless it had got on the nest to lay! Also, she would never sell a dog because of the Bible quotation about “the price of a dog. . .”

Casper W. Hodgson

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

Louis Hodgson was the father of Casper W. Hodgson who founded the “World Book Company” sometime prior to 1900. It was at his request that we all added the ‘g’ to our name. An English estate was at issue. No further knowledge . . .

Casper Hodgson married a school teacher who acquired ever more “highfalutin” ideas as they went up in the world. Uncle John visited them around 1900 at their fancy home at Yonkers on Hudson, New York. He said that Casper treated him well enough but his wife was barely civil. John’s Norwegian wife, Inga, who spoke only broken English, may have had something to do with it. In the world of what Mark Twain called “dudes and dudesses, ‘I social distinctions were very strong at that time and the terms “savoir faire”, “nouveau riche”, and “It isn’t done. don’cha know” had very real meaning.

Casper had three children — two girls and a boy. He graduated from Stanford University in the same class as Herbert Hoover. He died sometime in the Thirties. He used to send bundles of his newly published books to his Uncle Elias. The books are scattered or lost. I still have one of them — rather battered — in my possession. “Indian Days of Long Ago.” Other titles were “Ox Team Days on the Oregon, Trail,” by Ezra Meeker, “The White Indian Boy,” “Breaking Sod on, the Prairie,” and “Hidden Heroes of the Rockies. If I read all of those titles and remember a good deal about each of them

Casper was a small slender man and in 1900 somewhat bald. His publishing company was mostly devoted to school books. Physiology and hygiene manuals is that we (I) studied in grade school were published by his company. John said that at the time he visited him, he claimed to have a large government contract to produce school books for the Filipinos — that was shortly after 1898, when Dewey took Manila. The book titles that I previously mentioned were, I think, intended as educational supplements and all of them had frontier history as their basic subject.

Bert Shute says that in his youth, he knew Casper. Casper had made two vacation trips to Oregon. His wife was an Oregon school teacher. I understand: He was already involved in his publishing company, but also held a Job as business promoter of one of the railroads.

And now, to a line in the Pacific Northwest

One of the things that’s fascinated me in this genealogical project is looking at what happens when a line departs from the disciplined Quaker faith or, in my case, the Brethren as well. How much of the culture and values are retained, and how much is rejected?

Michael Howard Hodgson has provided a family history that Gerald Nathan Hodgson compiled in May 1970 regarding a line that settled near Spokane, Washington.

Here’s how it starts:

“The wide plains and the mountains called to them. And the gray dawn saw their campfires in the rain.”

This is the order of my paternal descent:

Jonathan Hodgson

Nathan Hodgson

(William) Elias Hodgson — Born 1846

Delwin Wilburn Hodgson — Born 1871

Gerald Nathan Hodgson — Born March 1913

Elias Hodgson was born in Indiana before the Civil War. Was too young to serve. A kinsman, Joel, I think, joined the Union Army at fourteen years.

Nathan Hodson (spelled without the ‘g’) was married twice. His first wife, Elizabeth Ratcliffe, was the mother of Louis, Elias and Simpson.

Nathan married a second time to Lucinda Fullwider and they had two daughters — Sarah Huteburger and Ruth Hodgson who married Eben Shute and became the ancestress of the Shute family. After Nathan’s death (circa 1865) Lucinda married Thomas Moore and begot additional children who are half kin to the Shutes. To complicate things further — Simpson Hodgson married Isabel Moore, a daughter of Thomas Moore by an earlier marriage. Eva Ratliffe (Ratcliffe) was his daughter. (I think.) She and her family were living in the Puget Sound area before World War II. Lester visited them in the company of Harland Shute.

Gerald Nathan Hodgson

None of my ancestors came by way of Ellis Island

Unlike many Americans, I can state that none of my ancestors arrived by way of Ellis Island. In some ways, that leaves me feeling left out. I’ll listen with curiosity to others’ accounts with all the more amazement, by the way, for those of you who tell them.

On my dad’s side – the one presented in this blog – I can safely assume all of my ancestors, including the Irish line, arrived before the American Revolution. (There are a few nagging details regarding the Bahills and Zieglers I still need to nail down, but I see enough to be confident in my claim.)

To add to my focus, it’s likely that all of Dad’s ancestors arrived by way of the port of Philadelphia and later lived a time in a relatively small window within Chester, Lancaster, York, and Adams counties before pressing on.

On my mother’s side, the more recent arrivals included Germans a half-century before Ellis Island was established and Scots by way of Ontario.

All of this acknowledges the immigration to America holds a host of tales yet to be told.


What were your family’s portals? Do you have any entry encounters to relate? Were there earlier family members to welcome yours? What else should we know or considering concerning the experience?