Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Beginning of My One-Line Study - Helen Ada (Brenton) Fritzley

So, as I prepare my portfolio for BCG, I am also using this as an opportunity to apply for membership in the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society's First Families of Western Pennsylvania. In order to be included, you must prove that your ancestors lived in "what is now Western Pennsylvania (the 26 counties west of Centre County) before 31 Dec 1810." Most of my ancestors in the Brenton line lived in Washington and Fayette counties, and it seems from my initial research that they have lived there since well before 1810.

But let's start at the beginning of my study. My name is Sarah Danielle Boehm, and I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So was my mother, Laura (Fritzley) Boehm. Her parents were William Frederic Joseph (Bill) Fritzley and Helen Ada (Brenton) Fritzley. Helen was a remarkable woman. She had 6 children with Bill, the oldest and the youngest (my mom) 17 years apart. They survived well on a policeman's salary, occasionally supplemented by Helen through several different jobs. Here's my grandmother, my mother, and me at a New Year's Eve party:

Gramma Fritzley, as I called Helen, was the most selfless, understanding and generous person I've ever met. She was truly our matriarch. Her chief concern was always the happiness of her children and grandchildren. No one could host a family gathering like my gramma. She rarely had a bad thing to say about anyone, and I've never met anyone with a negative thing to say about her. She died in 2008, at the age of 83. Our entire family, and her wide circle of friends, were devastated.

What makes her even more remarkable is that she had a very difficult upbringing. Her parents were Gertrude Ada (Swift) Brenton and Everett Mansell Brenton. Besides Helen, they had two daughters and two sons, only one of whom is still living. The family lived in Brownsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. They were very poor, even before Everett left the family in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, when Helen was 8. Her parents' divorce was granted in 1934. How Gertrude managed to raise 5 children by herself at this time is a mystery to me, but I do know I admire her greatly for it. Gertrude went on to remarry and have two more daughters. Gertrude died, only 50 years old, in 1953.

Helen met Bill when he came home to Pittsburgh after serving in the Army in World War II. He showed up at my grandma's apartment, intending to ask out one of her friends, but Helen informed him that she wasn't there. Bill decided to ask my beautiful grandmother out instead. Here they are on their first date (the couple on the left):

They married in 1946 and settled in Pittsburgh. They were married for 52 years, until Bill passed away in 1998. I miss them both every day.

Next: The story of Everett Mansell Brenton...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Did J.P. and Lena Elope?

I am preparing a one-line study of my Brenton ancestors, to prepare for my BCG certification. I am confident that my great-grandfather was Everett Brenton, through the personal statements of my grandmother, Helen (Brenton) Fritzley, as well as other secondary evidence, which I will detail as I go further into this study.

Recently, I was searching for marriage records for my great-great-grandparents, Johnston Playford "J.P" Brenton and Lena Leotta Wright. They were Everett's parents. Johnston is (I believe) an interesting example of a child receiving his mother's maiden name as his first name, although he is sometimes referred to in census records, etc. as Johnson. Through FamilySearch, I found that the West Virginia Division of Culture and History had Johnston and Lena's marriage record, in the West Virginia Archives and History's Vital Records database. They were married 1 Oct 1896, in Marion County, West Virginia.

This raises some interesting questions in my research. Both J.P. and Lena were born and raised in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Their parents (as far as I can tell) lived in Pennsylvania for all or most their lives. Why would two people get married in West Virginia when they had no connections there? Did they elope? What other reasons could there be?