Friday, February 13, 2015

The Unknown and the Unknowable

The book doesn't say where in Scotland Robert Greenlee and his brother came from, but it could have been Lanarkshire as easily as anywhere else. The famous mobility of Lowland Scots was nothing new, and even though the coal industry was just taking off, there were bound to be good reasons for a pair of enterprising young men to follow the flood of people pouring through Ireland and on into the New World.

The settlement of Ulster in the northern counties of Ireland was also nothing new - that had been going on for two centuries by the time the Greenlee brothers came to Ireland around 1770; Robert settled in County Armagh, in the village of Tandragee, while his brother went on to America. The book says he was there in time for the Revolution, but we'll have to take the book's word for that. Robert, a manufacturer of goods, stayed in Tandragee, married, and raised a family of four boys and two girls.

Most of Robert's children would end up in America, but not Robert. His eldest son, Samuel, born in 1795 would grow up to become a linen weaver and marry Nancy Jamphry in 1819. For nearly 20 years, Nancy and Samuel would bring another Greenlee into the world in each of the odd-numbered years, though Robert would only see the first six - he passed away in 1832. By 1837 they had six boys and three girls in their home. Their youngest son, born in 1835, was named Robert.

We don't know the cause, since the book and the records don't say, but their third eldest, a daughter called Margaret, died in 1843 at 18 years of age. Nancy died the following year, in 1844. It's possible that they were taken by disease, and it is certain that the year after that - 1845 - saw the beginning of what would be known as the Great Famine. It could be that chronic hunger, loss of income from the economic impact, and spreading disease associated with the famine made the family decide to move; it could be that their occupation as weavers kept them from feeling the hunger, but their political and religious affiliations as Presbyterian Unionists made them targets of their starving Catholic neighbors frustration. Regardless of the source of the pressures that drove them, the Greenlees were soon to leave Armagh.

Thus, as his uncle and some of his brothers and sisters had likely already done, Samuel decided to bring his family to the United States. On 14 November 1846, Samuel arrived in Philadelphia aboard the Ship Champlain accompanied by a 28-year-old Anne Greenlee. This was most likely his eldest daughter, Mary Ann, who would go on to marry Robert Willis. In 1850, the family was settled in the township of Aston in Delaware county, Pennsylvania. Samuel, along with his sons - Samuel, Jr., Matthew, Thomas, and Robert - worked as weavers; Samuel, Jr. had his wife, Ann Jane Sinton, and their baby daughter, Ann, in the household, and it must have been very... close and cozy.

The Greenlee children began to disperse themselves across the country. John and Mary Ann each married, and ended up in Wineland, Ohio, with their new spouses. James moved to Michigan, and Robert also moved to Ohio, settling in Hancock county, where he married Sarah Bollman in 1857. Thomas married, and may have been in New York, as he joined the 67th Regiment of the New York Infantry in 1861 on the outbreak of war.

Robert and Sarah had their son, Allen, in April of 1861, the month that the Civil War began. Robert enlisted in the 21st Regiment, Ohio Infantry, and he served for 3 months, mustering out in August of 1861. His unit was sent on a reconnaissance expedition down the Kanawha River in West Virginia, but they do not appear to have seen any action or suffered any casualties. His brother, Thomas, was not as fortunate, as the 67th NYI was involved in the Battle at Fair Oaks outside Henrico, Virginia, where he was killed at the end of May 1862.

Here, the story becomes darker and harder to see. As little detail as the book gives us - the book being Ralph Stebbins Greenlee's Genealogy of the Greenlee Families, to be specific - it got us this far. It tells us enough to connect everything we just read to what happened next...but what did happen next?

Sarah Catherine Bollman was born in 1838 in Ohio. In 1850, she live with her mother, Eleanor, and a younger sister and brother (Elizabeth Ann and Solomon, respectively). They lived in the town of Cass in Hancock county, which is where her marriage to Robert Greenlee was recorded in 1857. In 1860, she and Robert showed up in the census, still in Cass. We have records of Robert's enlistment, and they give us no reason to believe that he did not survive the war, and yet in 1870, Sarah and a 9-year-old Allen are back living with Eleanor.

It's impossible to guess from the information available, but the lack of information itself (and the fact that Sarah is listed in 1870 by her maiden name) suggests that something unheroic befell Robert Greenlee. We only know he died because the Greenlee book says so - "died at Vanburen, Ohio." It doesn't say how or when.

(Update: Sarah died in January 1875 and was buried in the Bechtel Cemetery, in Allen township, Hancock county. Robert was buried there after his death in 1879, and Allen in 1887. Sarah's marker lists her as "Sarah C. Greenlee," but the obituary index gives her name as Bollman.)

Allen Greenlee's life was similarly mysterious, in that very little solid information about him exists. We see him in the 1870 and 1880 census records, living with his grandmother (though the 1870 lists his name as "Ellen"), and we do see him listed on his daughter's birth record, so we are at least not guessing at the relationship. But aside from a single appearance in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1882, when he was apparently raising sheep in Findlay, Ohio, he only left one other trace behind.
Bertha May Greenlee and
Alice Ava Hales - c. 1889

Bertha May Greenlee, my great-grandmother, was born December 5, 1885 in Arcadia, Ohio, to Allen Greenlee and Alice Ava Hales. By the time she was four years old, her father was gone, and her mother remarried to George McClellan Cramer on November 28, 1889. George adopted her, and Bertha Cramer grew up with her half-sister, Mamie Cramer, her mother, and her adopted father in turn-of-the-century Fostoria, Ohio.

If Bertha knew what happened to her father, or to her grandfather, it did not get passed down to us. She did name her youngest son Robert, but that's not necessarily a clue. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can only imagine how dangerous life really was in those days and be grateful that we're here to marvel at it! And we are here because Bertha married John Quincy Callin, of the 20th Century Callin Clan, on June 6, 1906 - but that is a whole other story.

There is a lot we still don't know - about Allen and Robert, at least - and it's not likely we'll ever find out what happened to them. We'll keep looking, of course, because that is how you find out what is unknowable, and what is merely unknown. If we don't search, we certainly won't find any answers.

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