An incomplete story with a sad ending
Abigail Willoughby (b. 1822, Pennsylvania) appears as one of my great-great-great grandmothers in every family tree related to me that I've seen online. She was married to my great-great-great grandfather, James C. Vining (b. 1812, New York). James and Abigail are on my dad's side of the family. They were my paternal grandfather's maternal great-grandparents, to be exact. (I know it's confusing!)
Vague and missing info
Abigail Willoughby and James Vining are "brick walls," as family-tree researchers often say. Their branch of the family tree ends with them, because no one yet has learned the names of any of their parents. Abigail told an 1880 census taker that her parents were born in Massachusetts.
I like the sound of "Abigail Willoughby" -- it's almost poetic. But I don't know if Willoughby was really her maiden name or not. Most family trees say that Abigail Willoughby was born on 15 Feb 1821 in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, and that she married James C. Vining in 1838 in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. But where did my fellow researchers get that information? Was it in a family Bible or passed down in family letters? Or was it just an estimate and a guess, copied from one family tree to another? I haven't found any birth or marriage records at all.
Fairly reliable data
Here are some things I do know about James and Abigail:
- James Vining was living in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, at the time of the 1840 census with a total of three people in his household. The exact date of the census is not given, and only the head-of-household is named.
- My great-great grandmother Martha Almeda Vining was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania. Her sister Abigail Christine Vining was born in 1840 in Pennsylvania. They gave this information on multiple census records.
- In September 1850, the James C.Vining family was living in Henry County, Illinois. James was married to Abigail, and they had a new baby boy, Robert Henry (b. 1848, Illinois).
- James and Abigail had six more children between 1850 and 1868 in Illinois. Then between 1868 and 1870, they moved to Cloud County, Kansas, where they were some of the earliest settlers.
- James Vining died soon after they moved to Kansas. The 1875 Kansas census shows Abigail widowed and living with four of the children on a farm in Cloud County.
- Before 1880, Abigail married Silas Zenus Waters. He was a farmer, ten years older than her. The 1880 census shows them living in Norton County, Kansas, (about 150 miles west of Cloud County). Two of Abigail's children were still with her, listed as stepchildren of Silas Waters. One of Abigail's sons (James W. Vining) was the Norton County sheriff from 1879-1883.
- Family trees say that Abigail died in 1880. The date usually cited is December 4, 1880.
Willoughbys and more Willoughbys
I've been especially curious about Abigail Willoughby because of a series of marriages that took place in Illinois before the family moved to Kansas. The two oldest Vining girls, Martha and Abigail, married Mapes brothers. And a William H. Willoughby married a Mapes sister. Were William H. Willoughby and Abigail Willoughby related? They probably were, but I haven't been able to prove it.
I've looked at a zillion census records and family trees and I still can't prove how Abigail Willoughby fits into the Willoughbys who lived in or near Tioga County, Pennsylvania, where people say she was born. The generations aren't right. She's either too old or too young for those families.
I've entertained a weird theory that maybe Abigail's real father died and then her mother married a Willoughby, so Abigail wasn't really a Willoughby by blood. And I've explored an alternative (but similar) theory that maybe Abigail was married to a Willoughby before she married James Vining, and that her real maiden name wasn't Willoughby at all.
Most recently, I've decided that she might be the daughter of Elijah Willoughby who appears in the 1850 census in Delmar, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, living with his daughter Laura and her family. Elijah was born in Massachusetts, so that matches. Elijah's mother's name was Abigail -- hmmm. And Abigail Willoughby (my Abigail, not Elijah's mother) named one of her daughter's Laura -- possibly after her older sister?
Lately, I've renewed my research efforts, and I've turned up two pieces of information about Abigail that I haven't seen on anyone else's family tree or read in their notes. Both of them shocked me.
First, it turns out that Abigail may not be a blood relative to me. A brief family history (on the middle of p. 202, Genealogy of the Hannum Family by H. F. Temple, 1911, West Chester, PA ) that I found for Louisa V. Mapes (my great-grand-aunt,) states that her grandparents were James Vining and Betsy Ann Murphey, of New York State.
James Vining and Betsy Ann Murphey? I had to think about that! But upon examination, it makes sense. Maybe James was married to Betsy, had two daughters, became a widower, and then married Abigail several years later. That would explain why no children were born for about eight years after the first two girls.
Also, Louisa Mapes was 53 years old and in her right mind in 1911 when that family history was printed. Surely she was the one who provided the facts about her family. She was 22 years old when Abigail died. She would have remembered Abigail clearly, but she didn't name Abigail as her grandmother!
My other discovery is very sad. Last week, I learned that Abigail Willoughby committed suicide. This tragedy was mentioned in a short biography of James W. Vining, (p. 172, The History of the Early Settlement of Norton County, Kansas by F.M. Lockard, 1894, Norton, Kansas), who was one of James C. Vining's and Abigail Willoughby's sons.
[J. W. Vining's] father died in Cloud County in 1868. His mother married S. G. Waters in 1874; they came to Norton county in 1876 and settled near Edmond, their domestic life was unhappy which caused Mrs. Waters to commit suicide. Her remains were taken to Clyde [in Cloud County, Kansas] and buried beside her former husband. Mr. Waters died in 1889.
The county history where this account appears is criticized for containing gossip, but there are two unhappy facts here, whether or not they are related: (1) Abigail's marriage to Silas Waters was thought to be miserable, and (2) she killed herself.
There is nothing new under the sun -- didn't Solomon say that? I suppose that unhappy marriages have been around ever since marriage was invented. And I've seen dozens of stories in old newspapers about people committing suicide. I just didn't expect to find such a happening in my own family tree.
About fifteen years ago, a member of my husband's family committed suicide. I know how deeply we grieved about that. I also know how I grieved when my parents died. Abigail's children must have been devastated.
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This article was written by Genevieve L. Netz and originally published as a blog post at http://prairiebluestem.blogspot.com/2012/04/abigail-willoughby-1822-1880.html. Copyright 2012 Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for attaching this article to Vining and Willoughby family trees as long as this entire notice is included. Any other use requires written permission. email@example.com