"The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready"

Immigrant, farmer, patent holder...?

Phillip Jacob Runser (30 Jun 1845 - 22 Mar 1921), a maternal second great-grandfather, was born in Hégenheim, in the Alsace region of France--just a landslide away from the Swiss border--where Runsers can still be found. He was the seventh of eight children, and was named after his father.


 The Runser family emigrated to the U S when Phillip was just a year old, and settled in the newly-formed Jackson County, Wisconsin, where they purchased eighty acres. Phillip finished any schooling he had before age thirteen, able to read and write English; the household language was primarily French.  He worked on his father's farm, and on 19 Feb 1871, at age twenty-five, married Caroline Clarissa Ketchum (30 Sep 1848 - 7 Feb 1920) in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

(I would be fascinated to know how Phillip and Clara, as she was known, met, as her family worked primarily as sailors and such along the Great Lakes, while the Runsers were farmers in central Wisconsin. I do not know where she was living in 1870, as I cannot locate her on the U S Census for that year. The Wilber family, with whom she was living in 1860, was still in Erie, Ohio, but Clara was no longer living there. Did she go to Wisconsin? If so, why? I have no indication that Phillip or any of the relevant Runsers visited Ohio.)

Anyway. Black River Falls, home to numerous Runsers and their relations, is the subject of both a book (by Michael Lesy, 1973) and documentary film (by James March, 2000) entitled Wisconsin Death Trip. Both works feature extremely disturbing stories, and photographs taken in Black River Falls during the late 1800s by Charles Van Schaick. The film is highly recommended as a look at what our ancestors endured. It is no wonder that within a few years the newly-married Runsers moved to the Dakota Territory, settling in Redfield, Spink County sometime around its formation in 1879.

Black River Falls a few years after the Runsers left.
Photo by Charles Van Schaick, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The Runsers acquired more acreage, and with it, apparently, some financial success. The first school in Spink County was built on one acre of land on the NE corner of NW 1/4 Section 25, Twp.117, Range 64, donated by P J Runser, Sr. Perhaps this altruistic gesture served as the catalyst for the love of learning that runs through our family, and led to many of P J Runser's descendants becoming educators. Several of his grandchildren attended the school, which stood in the same location for over fifty years. It was later moved (a new school built in its place), and used as a meeting hall for the Farmer's Union, then finally torn down in 1975. 

In 1888, Phillip co-founded a company, the Redfield Elevator Company, for "Buying, selling and shipping grain and farm products."


Notice of incorporation of the Redfield Elevator Company,
from the Bismarck [North Dakota] Daily Tribune, 9 Dec 1888.

His entire adult life was spent in farming, so perhaps it is not surprising that a few years later Phillip invented a gizmo to be used on farm equipment. His "Speed-Changing Device and Indicator" was patented on 8 Feb 1898 as U S Patent number 598,817.

Page one of a three-page explanation of the device.

Note the engraving of  PJR's signature in the lower right.

In a previous post, I had quoted from a distant relation who bemoaned the detailed pedigrees of livestock, in lieu of focusing on human lineage. At the time, I imagined he was hyperbolizing, but researching Phillip, I discovered that these animal genealogies actually exist. In my second great-grandfather's case, I was able to find his name in several hefty tomes with titles like The American Oxford Down Record, Vol 5 (1892, page 391) as the owner of what were apparently several prized animals, including American Oxford and Vermont Merino sheep, and American Poland-China hogs. From 1901:



Some pig.



Like his father, Phillip also had eight children, including a son who became the third Philip Jacob Runser (26 Oct 1884 - 10 Nov 1984). Strictly speaking, he was not the third, as his grandfather went by Phillipe, and his father by Phillip, seemingly losing a letter with each generation; however, we will not let orthography get in the way of sentiment. At any rate, as of 2010, there was still a Philip (or perhaps, by this point, just Phil) J Runser--the sixth--living in Foxboro, Wisconsin.


The Runser family, c. 1900.
Back row: Catherine "Kitty" Runser, Joseph William Runser, Clara C Runser,
 Phillip Jacob Runser III, Anna Marie Runser, Frances "Frankie" Runser.
Front row: Robert Alfonso Runser, Phillip Jacob Runser II,
Caroline Clarissa "Clara" Ketchum,  Isabelle "Belle" Runser.
Not pictured: Will Sanders.

A few years later, Phillip and Clara, after living for a short time in Minnesota, finally returned to Wisconsin, this time to Douglas County. As late as 1910, aged sixty-five, Phillip Jacob Runser's occupation on the U S Federal Census was still listed as "Farmer." He died in 1921, just a year after his wife; his children Kitty, Joseph, and Philip and their families living on adjoining farms.


Summit Cemetery; Foxboro, Douglas County, Wisconsin.

"...they are no household of mine"

In a recent post, I wrote about one of my favorite ancestors, Frederick Dillazone Ketchum, focusing on his ship-building career. This time we will look at his other legacy, his children. But before that, I must touch briefly on his second wife.

Adaline [LKU] (1814 - 7 Nov 1888), the sometimes Mrs Frederick Ketchum, is a person of mystery, not just because she is listed in the 1860 U S Federal Census as "Acklin Kitchun." Was she an "attractive and prepossessing" woman of character, or a wicked stepmother--or a little of both? Not much is known about her, making her a good example of how genealogists must read between the lines when researching, as well as delving into the tangential stories sometimes discovered there. The time frame makes it especially difficult, as it was not until the 1850 U S Federal Census that children or married women were listed by name.

We do know that Adaline was our widowed ancestor's second wife, while he was her third husband. Her previous spouse was William P Mason (abt 1785 - bef 1860?), a man thirty years her senior, by whom she had three children, whose ages and birthplaces vary from record to record; were these honest mistakes, or did she have something to hide?

The Masons were living in Monguagon, Michigan in 1850; at the time the Ketchums were temporarily away from their Huron, Ohio home and living in Erie, Pennsylvania, no doubt due to Capt Ketchum's work. His first wife, Mary Ann Cherry, died in 1853. Sometime between then and 1860, Adaline and the Captain were married and living in Huron. How they met and when they married is not known.

We do know that upon marrying Capt Ketchum, Adaline moved her family in and his family out, scattered among other family members and friends; why? None of Adaline's children seem to have married; why not? Her youngest child, Charles Mason (? - 30 Mar 1917), a minor sculptor, died in 1917, at age sixty-two (or perhaps sixty-four...), an inmate of the Erie County [Ohio] Infirmary, his home for the previous twenty years.

Capt and Mrs Ketchum separated by 1880 (although, again, we do not know why or when); Frederick lived the last eight years of his life with his daughter Fannie and her husband. Perhaps tellingly, on their respective 1880 U S Federal Censuses, both Capt Ketchum and Adaline gave their marital status as "Widowed." Who was Adaline's first husband? What was her maiden name? Would she have married again? These are among the things we may never find out.

Adaline's obituary,
Erie County Reporter, 15 Nov 1888

Despite any influence from their step-mother (however unlikely), the Ketchum children stayed remarkably true to their father's nautical nature; nearly all of them made their livings on the Great Lakes, one way or another. The Ketchum love of water seems to have descended to my cousins and me as well; nearly all of us live within sight of an ocean, bay or lake.

George Henry Ketchum (3 Dec 1835 - 3 Sep 1899) was a sailor until, after being imprisoned during the Civil War, he fell upon ill health.  He married an orphan, Amelia Lloyd McLaurin (Nov 1842 - 3 Apr 1914), and the new family moved to Mackinac Island, Michigan for his health, which never fully recovered. Interestingly, Amelia is the only member of my family beside myself I have found that lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, at any time; she appears there as a young girl on the 1850 U S Federal Census.

Both before and after her marriage, she lived for many years with her uncle, Richard Lloyd Mansell (22 Oct 1840 -18 May 1912), who was the lighthouse keeper in Huron, Ohio for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. It is nice to think about him helping protect his in-laws' ships; although as I mentioned elsewhere, this was a mostly impossible task. (I have also written elsewhere about George and Amelia's daughter, Minnetta Amelia Ketchum.)

The lighthouse at Huron, Ohio, on Lake Erie, as it was in Richard Mansell's time.
This was the second lighthouse at this location, the first, built in 1835, having
been destroyed by a storm. Erected in 1857, this lighthouse was in turn replaced
by an automated, art deco design in 1936, which still operates today.

Frances "Fannie" Matilda Ketchum (13 Mar 1838 - 31 Jan 1917) and her husband, James Bennett (1 Oct 1822 - 22 Jul 1883) were married about 1855. James Bennett was a ship's captain, at least once in command of one of the ships built by his father-in-law. They had one son, James W Bennett (Mar 1856 - aft 1910), who never married. Until his death, he ran a hotel the family had purchased on Mackinac Island, Michigan.


Not the Bennett's hotel, although from the same period.
Mackinac Island Grand Hotel, abt 1910.


William Henry Ketchum (17 Jul 1840) lived just ten days.

Mary Elizabeth Ketchum (21 Nov 1841 -10 May 1911) married John L Dunbar (May 1834 - aft 1910), who worked as a ship's carpenter and moulder. They moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, had five children, and lived--one hopes--an uneventful life.

Florence Augusta Ketchum (8 July 1844 - 12 Jun 1916) and Frederick Augustus Ketchum (8 Jul 1844 - 28 May 1933) were twins. Born as they were in July, it is unclear why they received their middle names, as there were no other classical names in the family....

Florence married Louis Cass Crowell (Apr 1848 - bef 1916), a farmer. Like her sister, she also moved to Kalamazoo, her husband's hometown.

Fred Jr was a sailor on the Great Lakes, then served as a Private in the Ohio 24th Infantry during the Civil War. He married twice (both times to women named Mary, like his mother), and died, aptly enough, in the Ohio Sailors' and Soldiers' Home, at age 88. He outlived all his brothers and sisters.

William Wallace Ketchum (6 Oct 1849 - 2 Jul 1920) married Helen Marcia Thomas (9 Feb 1852 - 13 Feb 1917), and had three children. A farmer, he lived his entire life just a few miles from where he was born. He was the only one of Capt Ketchum's sons not to make his living on the Great Lakes.

Not last (she was born before William, above), and certainly not least, was Caroline Clarissa Ketchum (30 Sep 1848 - 7 Feb 1920), my great-great grandmother, better known as "Clara." At age twelve, after her father's marriage to the mysterious Adaline, she was sent to live with the Wilber family, whose relationship with the Ketchums remains unknown, although they lived just a few doors down from her uncle, William Hopkins Cherry. In 1871, she married Philip Jacob Runser (30 Jun 1845 - 22 Mar 1921). You'll be able to read more about them in a future post.

Caroline Clarissa Ketchum, at 18.


"are you the President? / It is a trifle..."

Today is July 4th, America's birthday. Which makes me think of history, and what it is to be an American; "thinking," perhaps overstating in this case what is really more riffing than meditation, filtered--as always--through my own peculiar prism of interests and experiences. Those of you who follow this blog will certainly note recurring motifs....

Anyway. This particular train of thought was begun by my last post, in which a ship builder whom my ancestor knew--but who was not my ancestor--was enshrined in an exhibit at the Smithsonian. An "itinerant" ship builder at that. Another of my posts concerns a scientific pioneer, who married into the family, and that via a first cousin three times removed. Heck, one of my earliest posts was about a number of famous folks, from presidential relations to the subject of an Arthur Miller play, who married into my distant family. If you're thinking about bridesmaids versus brides right now, you're on the right track.

But what of my actual forefathers (and mothers)? Did my "Miner '49er" ancestor discover the gold in California? No, but he died there a year later looking for it. A couple days ago at the library, I discovered a book on the Mayflower that looked interesting. Flipping through the index, I noticed that out of over four hundred pages, in a book covering fifty years, my four pilgrim forebears warranted just a handful of mentions, usually as part of a longer list of names. (I still checked it out.)

My ancestors often seemed to be present at--or at least adjacent to--historical events and personages, but never quite got the glory. Which reminds me of the wonderful children's book (and later Disney cartoon) Ben and Me, by Robert Lawson. The "Me" of the title is a mouse, who was present at, and occasionally inspired, many of Benjamin Franklin's greatest achievements, but never got any of the recognition or acclaim himself. Lawson followed up this book with similar titles, whose subjects included Christopher Columbus and Paul Revere, among others.



Gertrude Stein, upon returning to America for the first time after more than twenty year's absence, wrote, "In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is." (Which was far truer in 1937 than it is today.) She was writing about geography, but I think there is a further meaning: that there are far more people who are nobody than anybody, in the sense of what she called "glory," but we might call fame. And accepting that interpretation, again her words seem even more true today.


Gertrude Stein, at the height of her fame,
in a portrait by her friend Carl Van Vechten, 1935.


Almost fifty years after Stein's piece, performance artist Laurie Anderson wrote "Zero and One," a section of Home of the Brave, one of her numerous works that reflect on America and what it means. She continues the theme: 

Now, nobody wants to be a Zero. To be a zero means to be a nothing, a nobody, a has-been, a clod. On the other hand, almost everybody wants to be Number One. To be number one means to be a winner, top of the heap, the acme. And there seems to be a strange kind of national obsession with this particular number. Now, in my opinion, the problem with these two numbers is that they are just too close; leaves little room in there for everybody else.

Laurie Anderson, famous for explaining the US to us.


And speaking of trains (of thought), and has-beens, I am also reminded of the musical On the Twentieth Century ("as in flight, across the night, America the beautiful rolls by...."), a confection by Comden and Green, with music by Cy Coleman. It's one of my all-time favorites (and much in need of a revival), directed by the legendary, but usually more high-minded director, Harold Prince. It too talks about fame, dealing as it does with 1930s theatrical folk, a few of whom have even ventured to--gasp!--Hollywood. In a typical put-down, one of the characters says to two-bit leading man Bruce Granit, who plays opposite a much bigger star:

Don't tell me... I can't place the face, but I've seen you opposite Lily in all those pictures and I'd know the back of that head anywhere.



Kevin Kline, the front of the back of the head,
at the recording session for On the Twentieth Century, 1978.
 It was the show that first brought him to fame.

Apparently I must content myself with being descended from a long line of backs of heads. But surely there is another way to look at things....

For an earlier American anniversary, our country's bicentennial, Stephen Sondheim wrote music and lyrics for a show called "Pacific Overtures." Sondheim being Sondheim, this was no 1776 of course, but an exploration of imperialism and global homogenization that was set in Japan, beginning in 1853 and ending in the present day, presented from the point of view of the Japanese, using elements of Japanese theater, including kabuki and bun-raku. It was one of a series of collaborations of challenging shows written by Sondheim and directed by Harold Prince, the same fellow who gave us the aforementioned On the Twentieth Century. (I told you he was high-minded.)


The arrival of the Americans in Japan,
from the original production of Pacific Overtures, 1976.

One of the highlights of Pacific Overtures, and a high point in the Sondheim canon, is the song "Someone in a Tree." Recounting the first official meeting between the Americans and the Japanese, the narrator (accurately) notes that there are no records of the fateful day, which begins a thrilling musical sequence. An old man suddenly appears, who claims to have been there. He summons his younger self to tell of what he saw from his vantage point hiding in a tree, although he was too far away to be able to hear the events. Next a warrior appears, hidden under the floor, who is able to hear what is said, but not see the meeting. Each character adds their unique perspective, until they all realize that

I'm a fragment of the day.
If I weren't, who's to say
Things would happen here they way
That they're happening?

It's the fragment, not the day.
It's the pebble, not the stream.
It's the ripple, not the sea
That is happening.
Not the building but the beam,
Not the garden but the stone,
Only cups of tea
And history
And someone in a tree.

Of course, it is not hard to make the leap from being someone in a tree to someone in a family tree. It's nice to think that every one of us is part of the story, blurring the lines between which of us might be considered a "somebody," who a "nobody." Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman gave us an entire play (although not the one about my distant relatives-by-marriage) glorifying the "common man" to whom attention must be paid. Good for him; his Pulitzer was well-deserved.

Perhaps songwriters Frank Loesser and Jule Styne summed it up best in their song "That Ain't Hay (That's the U S A)," from the 1941 film Sis Hopkins.  "Hooray, hooray for the little guy...."




Have a Happy Independence Day, no matter whoever--or whatever--you are! You're an American. And that ain't hay.