Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Ramblin' Davis Grandparents

No two people were more peripatetic in life than they, Herbert Albert (Hooker?) Davis and his beloved wife, Jessie Virginia Thornhill. In fact, their youngest son, Cleo Francis Davis, always claimed he had gone to over twenty different schools before entering Rochester High School in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Interestingly, most of that shuffling about took place in two counties, Hancock in West Virginia and Beaver in Pennsylvania. In the mid 1920's Grandmother's young brother, Claudis Earl Thornhill, was an All American football player at Pitt University. Claud (Tiny) became an assistant coach under "Pop" Warner and finally, Head Coach at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The family including her parents, John Newton Thornhill and Fanny Bell Smith, moved to California.

Herbert (Grandmother called him Bert) and Jessie married the 30th of April 1897. She was just fifteen years old and he not quite nineteen. They had a family of four children which was complete with the birth of Cleo Francis in Sharon, Beaver County, Pennsylvania the 25 of March, 1904. Not one of their four children, Guy Earl, Harold Newton, Naomi Alberta and Cleo Francis, had been born in the same place, but all were born within a fifty mile radius of each other.

Granddad began life as Hooker Albert Davis, 20 August 1878, the only son of Joseph Davis and Sarah Ann Kennedy. Sarah Ann in the 1880 census stated she had six children , five living. We can only find records for five. Much more on Joseph and Sarah Ann in a later entry. Granddad was not at all happy with the name Hooker. Oh, it might have been okay as his middle name, well, not really. After several stabs at renaming himself, he ended up finally as Herbert Albert Davis. Where Herbert came from no one knows but Hooker was definitely discarded. But now the big question is, where did the name Hooker come from? I have Sarah Ann's family back quite a ways and no Hooker there. Was it a name from Joseph's family? Maybe, but Joseph's lineage is a bit muddled as you will learn in a later blog entry.

Grandad Davis was a small man, 5' 3" or 4'' inches tall and no more than 140 pounds soaking wet and with a few rocks in his pocket. His countenance was very gentle. His soft, almost sparkly, blue eyes, well-positioned in his nicely shaped and well-tanned face, were always welcoming. He was so soft spoken that if you weren't looking at him you would never have known he had spoken. He was so fastidious when eating he drove Grandmother crazy. When he ate, each item on his plate had a separate spot and each item was eaten separately and slowly. He was always the last to finish. Long before he would finish it was not unusual for the dishes of those who were eating with him to already be in the sink and washed. But oh how we kids loved him. He fit the old appellation "a jack of all trades" perfectly: He had run a bath-house in an amusement park, was an accomplished stonemason, carpenter, farmer, dairy farmer and--well you get the idea.

Grandmother Davis and her family
Grammaw, as we kids lovingly called her, was another kettle of fish. She was several inches taller than Granddad, a few pounds heavier, very witty, sometimes to the point of being sharp-tongued as they use to say. She could toss a barb with the best of them and frequently did. She was ruddy complexioned and had almost-impish, wonderfully-twinkling, grayish-blue eyes. She began life July 27, 1882 in a now vanished village called Rockyside, Hancock County, West Virginia. There were four children, three girls, of whom only Grandmother survived, and one boy, Claudis Earl. Grandmother and Claud are shown above (center) with their parents, John Newton and Fanny Bell (Smith) Thornhill.

Grandmother not only kept house and cooked wonderful meals, she planted and cared for the family garden, helped milk the cows and cared for the milk that was a large part of their income in later life. Grammaw churned butter regularly and always filled four or five very fancy, one pound butter moulds. She took took the moulded butter to the Farkas Brother's grocery market in Beaver and traded it for groceries. Her butter was so well liked there was always a waiting list at the market for it. She was devoutly religious and rarely missed a Sunday at the Christian Church in Beaver. I guess you would say they both were Jacks of all trades. They were part of the tail-end of subsistence farming as it was practiced in the early part of the twentieth century, prior to WWll.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heartbreak and Tragedy

Grandmother, Agnes Gertrude Childs Holt, and son Franklin Raymond Holt, Jr.
The first decade and a half on the farm proved to be tragic almost beyond belief. First, I believe it was 1919, my Uncle Frank contracted polio, which at that time was deadly as they had no reliable medication for it. Fortunately he survived but had a crippled right leg for the remainder of his life.

My folks, John Childs Holt and Naomi Alberta Davis, in the passion of a high school love affair, eloped and were married in New Cumberland, West Virginia. Their first child, a lovely young daughter, Miriam Ruth, arrived on the scene the 7th of March, 1921, two and half months before she was due. Two months later Miriam contracted pneumonia. There were no respirators in those days so she lived only a few days before passing away.

Tragedy struck again on the 6th of September that year. Grandmother Holt had been working in the yard in the afternoon and came into the house with a severe headache. She suffered all evening long and at 12:30 A.M. died of an aneurysm.

On the 15th of August, 1924, my brother, John Childs (Jack) Holt, Jr., was born. Jackie, as they called him, was an alert, bright, little fellow and began walking when he was just ten months old. Father entered Stanford University that fall and Mother and Jackie moved to California with him. Mother's uncle, Claud Thornhill, was the assistant football coach at Stanford. Most of Claud's family moved to California at the same time: my Grandmother Davis (his sister), Grandfather Davis, as well as Grandmother Davis's parents, John Newton and Fannie Bell Smith Thornhill. The University, belatedly, discovered that Dad had not finished his senior year at Rochester High School, located in Rochester, Pennsylvania, and gave him his walking papers at the end of the fall semester. Dad, Mother, and Jackie returned to Rochester and moved into the house at Holtdale that spring. During that summer and fall they were building a large storage barn and garage adjacent to the house. On September 10, 1925, Jackie was playing alongside the new building . Dad heard him cry out and went to him. Jack was crying and rubbing the back of his head. He had fallen backwards striking the base of his skull on the head of a nail protruding from a discarded board. Dad took him into the house and told Mother what had happened. By then, Jack had quit crying and was playing around in the house. Late that evening he went into a coma and they rushed him to the Rochester Hospital where he died. It has always been my belief that a kind and benevolent God, knowing what was coming, had started the healing process as Mother was unaware yet that she was pregnant with me at the time of Jackie's death.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dr. and Mrs. Frank R. Holt

Dr. Frank Raymond Holt and Agnes Gertrude Childs Holt

My grandparents were the original owners of Holtdale Farm. Very few photographs of my grandmother exist, she thought she was ugly and destroyed all those she found. I have only three of her, this one and another a little later in her life and one when she was seven or eight. The photo of Grandfather was taken around 1896 when he graduated from the College of Dentistry at the University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky. They were married in 1898 in Rochester, Pennsylvania and purchased the farm around 1910.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Things I intend to talk about

I am brand new at blogging and hope you will bear with me during my learning phase. I've spent the last 35 years or so working on the genealogy of my family and in doing so have uncovered some interesting family history along the way that I would like to share. I also want to relate to you how it was for me growing up in a rural community during the time of transition from the horse and buggy to the automobile, airplane and enhanced communication--the telephone. I must confess, too, I am totally addicted to national and international politics and have been known to bloviate (a favorite term of Mr. O'Reilly of Fox News) rather heatedly on current political affairs. I've been around on the planet a little over 83 years so it would be impossible for me not to give you an earful of my opinion on the political situation as I see it every now and then. I promise you though, I'll stick mostly to family history tales involving the multiple ancestral lines I've uncovered in my genealogical research and what it was like growing up on that farm. I welcome any and all comments, information, or corrections--better be sure of yourself, I've been known to "Harrumph" pretty loudly--on anything I publish here.

Some time around 1910 Grandfather (Franklin Raymond Holt, later shortened to Frank Raymond) and Grandmother (Agnes Gertrude Childs) purchased the 100 acre farm located on the south side of Tuscarawas (the Tuscy) road, about 2.5 miles west of the town of Beaver, Pennsylvania. At the time of purchase, there was a small two-story wooden-frame home located about a hundred yards south of the road on the east side of the farm. They soon named the place "Holtdale." Interestingly, near Leeds, England, there is a place called Holtdale. The name Holt is primarily of English origin, but it has also been in use in Ireland since the early 1200's. They later enhanced this place considerably making it into a very comfortable home in which to live. At the time though, they lived in down-town Rochester, on the same street but on the opposite side as the Oriental Theatre.

Grandfather, called Grampa, Grandad or Pop by us kids, set about clearing the place and putting in an orchard. He planted at least a half-dozen types of apples, cherries (both sweet and sour), plums, peaches and grapes. A Holt lived on that farm continuously from 1920 until 1995 when the last Holt, my brother Lee's daughter, Ellen and her family, moved away. Today, only my sister Virginia (Sis Holt) Hume and I together own two small pieces of the farm.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


This is the beginning of a blog intended to do several things: (1) Follow the first twenty years of my life spent on a small farm in Beaver County, Pennsylvania at the tail end of the transition from the horse and buggy to the more modern forms of travel and electronic communication, and (2), have you meet my family and ancestors as I have come to know them through research in the Holt, Childs, Davis, Thornhill and other family related lines such as Kennedy, Ecoff, Fry, Blake, Corley, Holmes, Smith, Critchlow, Windle and others. In some of the lines they have been traced to the immigrant, and occassionaly, to those who remained in the old country. My hope is that some of you who find your way to my blog can help me further my research into any and all of my family ancestral lines. Above all, I want your comments, critical, informative, identifying mistakes, adding to my research or telling me you like what I'm doing or don't and why. I look forward to hearing from you.