So much of genealogy revolves around numbers — dates of births, deaths, and marriages; an ancestor’s age at each of his or her major life events; numbers of children in a family; dates of historical events — genealogy definitely revolves around numbers. Unless we’re lucky enough to get access to a family diary or letters we seldom get to hear actual stories about our ancestors. Sometimes bits and pieces of an ancestor’s story will trickle down through a family – when that happens you often find yourself trying to make the facts support the story and using them to fill in missing pieces.
Such is the case of my great great grandmother, Josephine Edwards. She was born in October 1856 in Illinois to Dr. Thomas L. Edwards and Esther Ann Irwin. On March 9, 1875 she married Noah Smith in Muscatine, Iowa. Together they had four children: Lesta Dell, James Clarence, Frank Leroy and Leona Beatrice. Leona is my great grandmother.
By 1895 both of Josephine’s parents had died. In 1900 records show she and 13-year-old Leona were living in Chehalis, Washington. Her husband and sons, however, were still living in Iowa. The story passed down through the decades is that Noah had fallen in love with another woman (Belle Strode) and sent Josephine and Leona away. Leona, who adored her father, was heartbroken. Eventually Josephine ended up in Oregon married to Absolum Campbell. Both are buried in Belle Passi Cemetery outside Woodburn, Oregon.
The story raises so many questions that will probably never be answered. Such as why did Josephine move from Iowa to Washington? Was she just going as far west as she possibly could? Did she know someone in Washington? What was life like for her as a shunned and eventually divorced woman on her own with a young teenager to support? What work opportunities were available to her in 1900? How did she survive in those intervening years before she married Absolum? What took them from Washington to Oregon? These are questions the likes of which seldom get answered. They’re the kinds of questions that drive us to keep researching in case someday we connect with someone who may have stories, diaries, or letters that will help fill in the missing pieces. I like to think that Josephine was a strong and capable woman who had great survival skills. A woman who made the best of her circumstances and did everything she could to make a better life for herself and her daughter. But I wonder if she ever saw her sons or other daughter again. Did they ever look for her? Did she write them after she left? Did she have a happier life with Absolum? What is the rest of her story?