Remembering a Civil War Ancestor on Memorial Day

We don’t have a photo of Mom’s grandfather, Henry Francis Vining who served in the Civil War. He died within a year of Mom’s mother being born. It was a struggle for the Widow Vining to raise her young children in those days without a husband to support the family.

A too-brief summary of his life existed:

Henry Francis Vining – b 9/16/1836 East Windsor,Hartford,CT – d 7/28/1897 Chetopa Twp.,Wilson,KS – m 3/15/1874,Wilson,KS Nancy Jane Babcock (daughter of Ezra B. Babcock & Nancy Jane Wright) b 3/18/1851, Blackhawk,IA – d 1/6/1924 ElkCity, Elk,KS – Burial: Harrison Cem.,Wilson,KS – Enlisted 11/20/1861 with Company B, 9th Kansas Voluntary Calvary. Promoted to Corporal on 11/20/1862 and mustered out on 11/19/1864. (by Ms. Karolyn Rae Roberts)

That led me to search the details on Ancestry and in Here’s more about his life.

henry vining grave in Harrison cemetary, wilson co KS

Henry Francis Vining

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, researched and wrote an engaging story about Henry’s parents, Almira Buckland and James Vining. You can read it here, My Pioneering Great-Grandmother. It was published in the magazine Kanhistique and included in Mom’s book, My Flint Hills Childhood.

Henry Vining’s Military Experience

Here’s an excerpt from it which tells about Henry’s military service,

Almira’s courage was to be tested at its fullest in the next five years as the civil war loomed more and more on the horizon. In September of 1861, four of her sons, Henry, Erastus, Israel, and Charles rode their horses to Fort Leavenworth and enlisted in the Kansas Cavalry. They were assigned to the 9th Regiment, Company B.

Letters from Henry disclosed that he was being sent to the northwest territory to build Fort Halleck for protection from the Indians. He spent the war years fighting Indians and never came home until the war was over.

Erastus became a guide and took remount horses to Fort Halleck. On one trip he was caught in a blizzard and almost froze to death but managed to make it back home to recuperate from frostbite to his face, hands, and feet. Charles was like his father and had the wandering urge. After the war, he signed up for four more years of service and adventure.

Wikipedia gives some details about Fort Halleck, “Fort Halleck was a military outpost that existed in the 1860s along the Overland Trail and stage route in what was then the Territory of Idaho, now the U.S. state of Wyoming.”

The Vining Farm in 1880

I found some details about Henry Vining’s farm in the June 1880 in the U.S. Census Non-Population Schedule for Newark, Wilson County, Kansas.  The farm included 20 acres of tilled land, no acres of permanent pastures or woodlands, and 20 acres of other unimproved fields. The value of the farm was $300 including the buildings and there was $25 worth of farm machinery and $30 worth of livestock.  There were no horses, mules, working oxen, milch cows, sheep, or swine. It appears that the livestock was 30 chickens who produced 100 eggs in 1879.

He had 1/2 acre planted with apple trees but only one had reached bearing age. there were 75 peach trees that were bearing on another 1/2 acre. I’m not sure what they did with that many peaches. Not far away, his brother James had a larger farm which also had a large peach orchard.

James had 2 horses, so maybe he helped Henry with plowing. Henry had 1 acre of potatoes that yielded 70 bushels in 1879. There was also 7 acres of Indian corn that produced 200 bushels and 2 acres of wheat which made 20 bushels. Twenty gallons of molasses came from the 1/2 acre of sorghum. It’s likely that they had a vegetable garden for some additional food like pumpkins, squash, turnips, beets, and cabbage which could be stored into the winter months.

Indian corn could be ground into cornmeal for making cornbread. The wheat could be ground for flour to make biscuits or bread. They probably didn’t eat the chickens as the eggs would be needed for eating or bartering. Maybe they hunted for rabbits or other game to provide meat.

Henry Francis Vining died of typhoid fever on July 28, 1897.

henry vining death typhoid

The Alliance Herald Fredonia, Kansas 06 Aug 1897, Fri • Page 3

Dreaming of Ireland

I wonder if my mom (Gail Lee Martin) would have liked to visit Ireland? After working on the family history for years, I imagine she would have liked to see the land of our ancestors. Our research and my own DNA show a strong Irish inheritance. My ethnicity estimate from Ancestry is 27% Irish and Scottish.

farmhouse-irish cottage pixabay

Wouldn’t you like to stay in a cottage in Ireland for a week or two?

I’ve always dreamed of staying in a cottage in Ireland and experiencing village life. What fun to travel around seeing the area and really get a feel for Ireland and its people. A stay of several weeks would allow you to visit places where your ancestors once lived but still have quiet time for relaxing in the wee house.

It turns out that it’s really possible to do this. Here are the steps for making your dream of Ireland into a reality.

Renting a Cottage in Ireland

Start by looking at the listings on the internet. Search for these using the terms “Irish cottage” + “rental.” Here are some examples that I found:

Rent a Cottage
Irish Cottage Holidays

Browse through the listings, looking at locations. Visualize yourself staying in the rustic cottages. Do you want to be in a village so you can walk down to the market for a loaf of bread and to the pub in the evening for a pint?

Would you rather be in the country with a hillside of sheep for company? Think about the setting that fits your dream vacation. Are long rambling walks with skylarks swooping overhead what you want? Would you love puttering with the flower garden and reading in the sunshine?

irish window pixabay

Window in Ireland (photo from Pixabay)

Compare the prices of the different agencies that offer cottages for rent. What amenities are included? Do you want total authenticity with a real peat fire in the fireplace and a thatched roof overhead? Maybe your preference is a cottage setting but one that has some modernized comforts as well? Read the listings carefully for these details.

Now, start saving your money for this idyllic Irish vacation. I’m saving what I earn from writing. It’s exciting to see the savings grow and my Irish cottage vacation coming closer to reality.

Gail’s Great-Grandfather

Gail Martin’s Book Includes Abraham Bates Tower – Her Great-Grandfather

In researching family history, Gail grew to admire her Civil War ancestor. He was her great-grandfather who died when Gail was 6-years-old. I don’t think she had personal memories of him, but what she found out about his life impressed her.

abraham bates tower collage

Abraham Tower grew up in Indiana and joined the Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War years. Leaving his wife and two children, he marched away to war with thousands of other young men.

Three long years passed as he lived the hard life of a Union soldier marching many miles as part of Sherman’s Tallahatchie March, participated in the siege of Vicksburg, and was captured at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. Imprisoned in the horrendous conditions at Andersonville Prison, Abraham barely survived the starvation and diseases there.

Finally, the war was over and he rejoined his wife and children. They had moved to Missouri to be with family since he was “missing in action.” His health was affected by his imprisonment but he went on to live a long life. Gail’s grandmother was one of the children born to Abraham and Nancy Tower after the war.

Gail Lee Martin’s Memoir


A childhood on the Kansas prairies in the 1930s springs vividly to life in the detailed memories of Gail Martin. Her simple accounts of long ago school days, celebrations and family life are a treasure. Travel back in time to experience life in the Flint Hills during the Great Depression and the time leading up to World War II.

The memories include her father’s work in the oil field, trips to town in the family’s Model A, raising her pet badger, fishing on the Cottonwood River, and wearing dresses made from feed sack material.

The book also explores her family’s role in early Kansas history with details of covered wagons, homesteading, the Civil War, and fledgling industries. These range from Tyro to Teterville to Eureka.

This most recent edition includes a section with About The Author and a McGhee, Vining, and Tower Family Album.


Four Generations of Mothers

Researching family history becomes more meaningful when you can see the faces that go with the names and dates. For Mother’s Day, I pulled together my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. Beyond that, I have just the names and information, but no photos.

I like seeing them all lined up like this. Looks like that high forehead and the nose came down through the generations. I must have gotten my nose and blonde hair from the Martin side, but I do have the forehead.

Here are their names and dates (left to right):

    • Gail Lee McGhee Martin 1924-2013
    • Ruth Vining McGhee 1897-1960
    • Nancy Jane Babcock Vining 1851–1924
    • Ellenor Nancy Jane Wright Babcock 1820–1882

These four women had 36 children and that doesn’t count the miscarriages or ones that died at birth. Nancy Jane remarried not long after her first husband died. In 1873 Kansas, a woman with children didn’t have the luxury of a long mourning period.

They were part of the migration westward in the U.S. as the family moved from Indiana to Illinois, then to Iowa, and finally to Kansas. Pregnancy and raising children must have been difficult in those times; feeding a large family while cooking over an open fire, washing unending diapers with water brought from a stream or well or cistern, and tending a sick child with no doctor nearby.

Many thanks to these women for persevering through hard times while caring for their children.



Label Your Photos!

You think you’ll always remember the people in the photograph and the event. Unfortunately, once 30 or 40 years go by, the memory may not be as clear or worst-case-scenario, you might die.

If no one knows who the people in the photo are, it becomes fairly meaningless. All too often, the descendants just toss out those pictures that are unlabeled. That’s really sad to see family history dumped in the trash. I see them sometimes in antique stores, shoved into a box with a sign “INSTANT ANCESTORS.”

It always makes me sad that some family has lost those images that are part of their family history.

(a mystery photo from our family collection)

Don’t let that happen in your family. For any photos, you print out, take some time to write the names and dates on the back. Additional information is a bonus, but at least get the basics. Don’t leave your digital photos without proper titles. Be sure to change the photo name from img_004 to something more meaningful. My mother’s scanned photos have fairly detailed names which has been a big help.

Charles Lorenzo Martin in a suit

Clyde Martin’s father, Ren Martin.

I’m sorting my mother’s photo collection which includes some that she inherited. She was pretty good about writing the names on the backs of them but some just say, “Ren” or “Harriet’s son.” I know Ren is my grandfather, Lorenzo Martin, but if I don’t write that out, will the next generation know that? The other name, Harriet, doesn’t ring a bell, so I need to scan that one in and see if my cousins on Facebook can help me identify it.

Gail Lee Martin wrote an article in 2009 about dealing with family mystery photos. Here it is, Using the Clues in Old Family Photos. You can save yourself and future generations a lot of trouble if you sit down now and label the ones you know.


My Grandmother Rides a Motorcycle

Post by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain.

I Love This Vintage Photo

Back in 2009, my mom turned up this photo of her mother during my visit to Kansas. I’d never seen it before. Wow, it’s hard to imagine my grandmother in the early 1900s on a motorcycle.

Ruth Vining on Albert's motorcycle_edited

Take a look at that bike! I love what my grandmother is wearing. Her name was Ruth Vining and she lived in Tyro, Kansas. To read more about her life, check out my mother’s book, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas. It’s hard to tell is that’s smoke around the back of the motorcycle from the exhaust or just fading or damage to the old photo.

It almost looks like she is sitting on it side saddle style, as her long skirt isn’t hitched up in the front. Perhaps she is just posing for her brother Albert to take a picture.

Mom said that Albert lost his temper one day with the bike not running properly and destroyed it with a sledgehammer. You can read more about him here, Albert Vining in World War I.

Reading Eagle 1911 flanders motorcycle ad

This is the 1911 Eagle newspaper (Reading, PA) ad for a Flanders 4 motorcycle.

If you’d like to know more about the motorcycle, a reader clued me in that it’s a Flanders 4. With a little internet research, I found an old ad from 1911 that features it.

You can see the Flanders name on the motorcycle, below where her hands are. They made these between 1911 and 1914. The bike may have been a few years old, as Ruth Vining was born in 1897. In 1911, she would have been 14. In 1914, she would have been 17. I’m guessing she is 17 or even 18 in this picture.

Here’s a web page I created with more about this motorcycle and photos of vintage motorcycles.