Nettie (White) Bailey – Impassioned Kansas Prairie Letter Writer and Lightning Victim of the 1880s


Having struck out to a new south-central Kansas prairie home in the spring of 1884 with her husband and parents, Nettie (White) Bailey wrote a prolific series of impassioned letters to her beloved sister Helen (White) Clark who had remained in Missouri with her family. The letters which survive today, mainly penned by Nettie (seen here), describe the death of their mother Mahala (Miner) White, ever-present dust and wind, community gossip, the anguish of the sisters’ separation, and comings and goings of relatives and friends, including the April 1889 departure of their uncle and aunt James and Lydia (Miner) Brown from Kansas for a new life in central Oklahoma.

Tragically, Nettie’s life was snuffed out in a freak lightning storm in July 1889. But the correspondence between the Kansas Whites and Missouri Clarks continued through 1911. The final letter is from Nettie’s brother Layton White to his niece Blanche just before his death.

After the letters stopped, Nettie’s daughters Mabel (Bailey) Phelp and Blanche (Bailey) Peterie lovingly preserved and kept them together. They were shared among various family members until about 1984, when Nettie’s great-granddaughter Janet (Hoyt) Sperry brought them to her home in Montana and painstakingly retyped each and every one. To do so, she carefully studied the faded and small handwriting to make sure she was capturing every word correctly. In the end, on behalf of the family, she donated the originals to the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka, accession number 2003-065.02. A complete set of the retyped letters is in the Lincoln Library in Medicine Lodge, KS.

Today, with Janet’s gracious permission, these letters are being posted on as the “Nett Helen Letters” for all to enjoy and to bring these ancient lives into view. As of April 8, 2018, letters had been posted chronologically through Aug. 25, 1889, with more intended to be added all the time.

You may recall that Janet was featured as the “Photo of the Month” in November 2011. An enlarged version of Nettie’s portrait is the “Photo of the Month” for April 2018.


2017 Annual Review – A Report for Family and Friends


[Link to full text – 2017 Annual Review]

Every week and sometimes nearly every day during the past year, I added new material or searched new nooks and crannies to bright to light new facts about lives of our family of the past. The research and publishing are at times exhausting, frustrating and labor-intensive, but also at times exhilarating, especially when cousins from throughout the nation write and say they’ve enjoyed the experience of surfing the site.

The spigot of inbound story and image content for remains turned on, full force, even after nearly 18 years of active publishing. There are just too many stories and rare images distributed in households all across the country for this website ever to be complete.’s content is written for two different audiences. One is the readers and inquirers of today. The other has not yet been born, but may crave to know something about their ancient people 100 and 200 years from now. Afflicted with the “tyranny of the urgent,” a focus on the here and now and immediate gratification, Americans do not think in these terms. and its archives will continue to produce content and preserve materials to keep old, forgotten lives alive in some flickering way far, far into the future.


Among the plans for 2018 are a return visit to present at the annual Junghen-Younkin Reunion in July in Somerset County, PA — a continued posting of the “Nett Helen Letters” between two sisters of the 19th century, one in Missouri, the other in Kansas who was killed in a freak lightning storm — and a few days of research in the National Archives in Washington, DC to examine and copy the Civil War records of 14 newly discovered soldiers of the Minerd, Younkin and Owen clans

As is now in its 18th year, it’s exciting that this work never ends. The site continues to be fascinating, surprising, exasperating, eye-opening and never ever dull. New material continues to be shared by long-lost cousins near and farm.

Thank you again to everyone who has contributed your special part from your own family’s trove of family treasures. This site is for you, and would not be possible without you.

Ill-Fated Railroader John David Evans of the B&O in Pittsburgh


John David Evans, right

Held together by tape, this rare, fragile photograph shows ill-fated  John David Evans and a colleague aboard a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad locomotive in Pittsburgh. Rendered fatherless at the age of eight, John spent time in a local Catholic orphanage until his mother Eva remarried George Henry Minerd and settled in the city’s Carrick section.

After marrying Margaret Elizabeth Casey, John was employed in the early 1920s as an locomotive engineer for the B&O. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, an early union. His duties involved work in the Allison Park suburb of the city, near what today is Route 8.

On the frigid and fateful evening of Jan. 26, 1924, John was caught in a freak accident at work. The Pittsburgh Post reported that “Evans’ overalls ignited at Allison Park … when a sudden gust of wind blew the flames toward him from a bundle of oily waste burning on a shovel which he was holding. Evans … was endeavoring to thaw a frozen pipe on his engine when the accident occurred.” Suffering from second and third degree burns of his left thigh and left hand, he was rushed to St. Francis Hospital. There, after 10 agonizing days of suffering, he succumbed.

Today, he is memorialized on the page, “Death on the Rails: 42 Fatal Railroad & Streetcar Accidents.” More>>>

Ol’ Solomon Sturtz, Pioneer of Greene, Iowa


Solomon “Sollie” and Elizabeth (Troutman) Sturtz, natives of Somerset County, PA, were pioneer settlers of Ohio and Indiana before settling for good on a farm in Greene, Butler County, Iowa. The parents of nine children, they lost a son and several nephews during the Civil War. This image likely dates to the late 1890s or early 1900s.

A local newspaper, the Greene (IA) Reporter, once said that the quality of Solomon’s farm was “among the best in the county, having a fine residence, 18 by 30, two stories high, and the largest barn in the county, it being 40 by 65, with all improvements in arrangement of the modern ‘bank barn’… He was at one time the sole possessor of a single-roofed house in the township.” The story also documented how Solomon and other pioneers “experienced some hardships as hauling grain in Cedar Rapids and Independence and made one trip to Dubuque for goods. There was plenty of deer in those early days and he made it a point to have his share of the shy, but out-witted, creatures. The wily wild turkey was overtaken by the swift bullet guided by an unerring aim.”

Solomon and Elizabeth were charter members of the Presbyterian Church of Coldwater, founded in 1863. A journalist with the Reporter once noted how “well do we remember as a child watching that stern face of Mr. Sturtz as he sat attentive and almost unmovable in his pew at regular services. Here we might mention that one of the early ministers who ‘watched over that flock’ was one Elder James, a sort of circuit rider, we presume, but he preached there, led the song service, and otherwise conducted the affairs of christian supplications. His song for opening the services was usually ‘Pull for the Shore Sailor, Pull for the shore,’ and ‘Lead Kindly Light’ was the other.”

At Solomon’s death in 1907, the Recorder said that “the town of Greene and Butler county lost one of her oldest men and one of her best citizens… His memory was clear until the last few weeks and he delighted to tell the story of his life in the early days of Butler county. His many friends marveled at the patience with which he bore the last sufferings and the release that came to him was not unwelcome. He was honest in business, kind to his friends, faithful in service and has a place in the hearts and minds of a large circle of acquaintances.” More>>>

Brilliance and Dark Descent: Lulu Younkin and Her Daughter Belle, 3 Decades Apart

Lulu (Younkin) Anderson
Special Collections, San Diego Public Library

Even now, 120 years later, the story reverberates with heartache and suffering.

Lulu Younkin, educated at the University of Iowa and a teacher in the Iowa City schools, arrived in San Diego in at the age of 28, in 1887.

The daughter of attorney Archibald Campbell Younkin — niece of Dr. Edwin Younkin, renowned chair of surgery at the American Medical College — and granddaughter of Dr. Jonas Younkin, an influential country doctor and preacher who helped establish the Disciples of Christ movement in Somerset County, PA, her future bristled with vibrancy and promise.

Lulu’s catalogue

Within a short time, she was named Librarian of the San Diego Public Library, at a monthly salary of $70. One of Lulu’s first accomplishments was to organize the 7,800-book collection by the Dewey Decimal system and produce the first printed reference catalog, published in 1889. In the 212 page document, she reported that the library had “grown to a leading position among the public libraries of the State, being now second only to that of San Francisco. The institution is now an honor to the public spirit, taste and culture of San Diego.”

Fate began to intervene in the fall 1895, on an extended visit in Denver, when Lulu met an old friend from school days, Dr. Horace G. Anderson. To the great shock of her hundreds of relatives and friends, reported the Los Angeles Times, they decided to marry immediately. She resigned from her librarian position and relocated to Pitkin, Gunnison County, CO, a small mining town located 100 miles southwest of Denver, where Horace had a medical practice.

After a little more than two years of marriage, something went terribly, horribly wrong.

Lulu gave birth to a healthy baby daughter in October 1897 but apparently suffered a post-partum reaction. A story in the San Diego Union said she was afflicted with a “mental aberration” occurring “since the birth of her child a few weeks ago. [She] has been in a critical condition, resulting in her mind becoming unbalanced. Her many friends hope for her speedy recovery.” In reality, she had attempted suicide.

Lulu was admitted to what today is Patton State Hospital in Highlands, CA, where she succumbed at the age of 39 on April 25, 1898. Her grieving husband is believed to have not lived long as a widower, or abandoned the scene, but soon was gone from his baby girl’s life.

The infant, Belle Gilcrest Anderson, had been named in honor of a beloved friend and college classmate of her mother’s. Now motherless, the girl was taken into the Iowa City home of a loving uncle and aunt, Arthur and Loie (Thompson) Younkin, with an adoring uncle Edgar C. Younkin also in the household. Then in 1903, when Belle was age 5, she formally was adopted by her grandmother Mary Catherine (Jones) Younkin. A related story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen observed that “The mayor of Denver, Robert R. Wright, Jr., sanctions the adoption.”

Belle relocated into her grandmother’s home in San Diego. After high school graduation, she “showed promise of a brilliant career as a chemist,” reported the Oakland (CA) Tribune, and enrolled in the University of California. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1921 and a master’s degree in 1923, leading to an instructor’s position in the university’s department of bacteriology in Berkeley. Belle placed a very high degree of pressure on herself to perform and aimed to become a doctor of philosophy. Her ambitious drive led to a terrible mental or emotional collapse in December 1926, possibly also a suicide attempt.

Determined to earn a third degree, Belle relocated to San Francisco in early 1927. She secured a position as a research associate in chemistry as part of the Hooper Foundation of Affiliated Colleges. But when she took an oral examination for the Ph.D. degree, she failed to pass. Friends heard her say that “I’d rather be dead than a failure.” She confided to friends that “she was losing control of the brilliant mind which had brought eminence in her chosen profession,” said the Petaluma Argus-Courier, and that since her mother had committed suicide, she thought she was destined to the same end.

On the fateful day of May 19, 1927, Belle told co-workers that she was going to correct some test papers in an upstairs laboratory at the office. But instead, the 30-year-old mixed a lethal dose of poison and took a walk to a lonely spot on the Old Trocadero Road. Drinking the mixture, she died instantly, with her body discovered in an underbrush an hour later by a gardener. The tragedy was big news in the Tribune, which stated “In this manner she ended a brilliant career as a chemist,” and with her photograph illustrating the story.

In a newspaper column, Dr. Frank Crane of the McClure Newspaper Syndicate wrote that the death was “Another one of those ‘rashly importunate.’ Why hurry? Why not see what time will do? Time solves more problems than all our wit…. It is a long road that has no turning. Keep trudging along and surely some opportunity will come to you to get away from the hated routine.”

Belle’s death was not the last of the related tragedies.

Her adoring uncle Edgar Younkin, with whom she had lived in girlhood in Iowa City, and also having relocated to San Diego, must have thought Belle the bright light of his life as she grew into prominence.

But after receiving the profound shock in of Belle’s death, however, the darkness weighed on his mind for days which turned into weeks and then months, one sleepless night after another.

On the fateful day of Sept. 26, 1927, the 66-year-old Edgar went to work in his position as a night janitor at the First Trust and Savings Bank. All alone in the building in downtown San Diego, he shot himself in the head.

Final resting place of the ashes of mother and daughter,
Greenwood Memorial Park, San Diego.
Courtesy Lot Lzrd, Find-a-Grave’s Recommended News Stories and Blog Posts Since May 2017

As the year winds down, here’s my list of favorite news articles and blog posts since May, which initially were posted on my award-winning website, These stories have some connection to my favorite themes of Americana, culture, art, journalism, genealogy … and regional Pittsburgh, the epicenter of our family’s growth and development since 1791.

In our uber-fast-paced society today, with seemingly unprecedented opportunity to shape our own lives and destinies, we still seem to live in the shadow of history, with current events somehow shaped by people of the past.

From Two Scholars, African-American Folk Tales for the Next Generation” – New York Times, Dec. 15, 2017
Stuffed in the stacks no more? IUP’s library needs to purge” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 2, 2017
Declaration of Independence Sells for $1.8 Million” – Rare Book Hub, December 2017
Are Digital Files Better Than Books? Think Again!” – Rare Book Hub, December 2017
Where Have All the Copies of Robert Burns’ First Book Gone? – Here is the Long Answer” – Rare Book Hub, December 2017
One for the books: How Pitt’s Hillman Library is preparing for the future” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 26, 2017
Chris Wallace: Journalists crossing the line” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 20, 2017
Who betrayed Anne Frank? Retired FBI agent heads team trying to solve mystery” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 19, 2017
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses explained, in 95 parts” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 29, 2017
How William R. Jones might have changed the course of history that led to the Battle of Homestead” – by Ellie Wymard, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 29, 2017
Heavenly hosting: Pittsburgh institutions helped digitize the archives of the late English Cardinal” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 17, 2017
Birthplace of an industry: Study focuses on ‘little corner of Pennsylvania’ and its role in coal, coke businesses” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 6, 2017
Steelers, NFL Trying to Deal with Anthem Controversy” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 1, 2017
California Rescinds Application of Hated Autograph Law to Booksellers” – Rare Book Monthly, October 2017
William R. Cagle, Former Lilly Librarian” – Rare Book Monthly, October 2017
Archive of Author Michael Ondaatje Acquired by UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Center” – Fine Books & Collections, Sept. 26, 2017
Original German Street Names May Return to Cincinnati” – Family Tree Magazine, Sept. 24, 2017
Frederick Wiseman delivers an ode to knowledge in ‘Ex Libris: The New York Public Library’” – Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21, 2017
Battle Over Confederate Monuments Moves to the Cemeteries” – New York Times, Sept. 21, 2017
Collecting Dr. Johnson” – Fine Books & Collections, Sept. 21, 2017
We’re still fighting, more than 150 years after Appomattox” – Associated Press, Sept. 2, 2017

Library of Congress Puts Alexander Hamilton Papers Online” – Fine Books & Collections, Aug. 29, 2017

First editions and lasting treasures: how to be a book collector” – The Irish Times, Aug. 26, 2017

My Life and Legacy” – by Gary Vaynerchuk,

Researchers find wreckage of WWII-era USS Indianapolis” – Associated Press, Aug. 20, 2017

Found: Oldest Known Photo of a U.S. President (Socks and All)” – New York Times, Aug. 16, 2017

Slave Quarters Unearthed in Jefferson’s Manson” –, July 5, 2017

University of Virginia plans a large memorial commemorating thousands of enslaved people who worked there” – Washington Post, June 9, 2017

The New Normal of Relationship Overload” –, May 25, 2017

Jack Lewis’s New Book, ‘Storm Coming: A Novel of the Civil War in Western Virginia’

Jack and Carol (Surber) Lewis

For the second consecutive Christmas season, is pleased to promote a cousin-authored book published during the past year. Here, Jack and Carol (Surber) Lewis, of the family of Anna Belle (Miner) McCormick, display his inaugural title of fiction, Storm Coming: A Novel of the Civil War in Western Virginia.

Storm_Coming_CoverProduced by Carol’s company, Surber Press, and based on a true story, Storm Coming is the first of a trilogy of Civil War novels chronicling the fateful events of 1861 in western Virginia, as a young man learns to cope with his world turned upside down by war. View Jack’s website for ordering details.

You may recall that Jack was featured in the “Photo of the Month” for January 2006, in an image showing him and his U.S. Coast Guard Academy rifle team meeting then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon circa 1957.

Jack has had careers as a U.S. Coast Guard officer, marine engineer, corporate CEO, software developer, horse breeder/trainer, textbook author and, late in life, a registered nurse, volunteer paramedic and washtub bass player in an oldtime string band. Educated at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and MIT, Jack is a registered professional engineer. He is an avid history buff, has had a decades-long fascination with the Civil War and has contributed significantly to this website. He and his brother Tom have helped host Lewis Reunions over the years.

Last December’s “Photo of the Month” featured Jeff Minerd — the guest speaker at the Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor national reunion in July 2000 — and his first book, a fantasy adventure novel named The Sailweaver’s Son.