Thursday, March 13, 2008

Abigail A. (Vaux) Smith

I have a soft spot in my heart for those ancestors who lived through hardships and persevered and had a productive life.

One of my favorite ancestors is Abigail A. (Vaux) Smith - born 28 October 1844 in Aurora, Erie County, New York, married Devier J. Smith on 4 April 1861 in Rolling Prairie, Dodge County, Wisconsin, and died 11 September 1931 in San Diego, California at age 86. She was the daughter of Samuel and Mary Ann (Underhill) Vaux - Samuel came to Erie county, New York in the late 1830's from Somersetshire in England with his parents and several brothers.

I don't know Abby's middle name - only her initial - A. I've often wondered if the A. stood for Ann or Ardell (since she named her first daughter Abbie Ardell and they called her Della).

I know quite a bit about Abby's life from the Smith Family Bible, the Letters from Home, and Della's Journal, in addition to all of the family photographs (strangely, I don't have a photo of just Abby in my computer files). But I can only imagine the "rest of the story."

As a young girl in Aurora, New York, Abby was surrounded by the Underhill and Vaux families - there were many cousins, aunts, uncles, and her Underhill grandparents. Before 1859, her parents took the family to Dodge County, Wisconsin. How did they travel there, what did they take with them, how hard was it to say goodbye to the families? They likely traveled on a coach, wagon or cart from Aurora the short distance to Buffalo and boarded a boat to go across Lake Erie to Toledo or Detroit. Did they then take a coach, wagon or cart from there to Wisconsin? Or did they stay on the boat and sail up through Lake Huron and into Lake Michigan to Milwaukee or another port in Wisconsin? Think about the adventures - on the coach or wagon seeing new places and new peoples, and on the boat, especially when the wind and waves came up, or a rain squall buffeted the boat, and the land disappeared from view. How long did this trip take? It must have been several weeks or more. Where did they stay on the way? Inns or hotels? This teenage girl experienced this to start her lifetime of travel from East to West.

When they arrived in Dodge County, Wisconsin, who did they live with? Several of Samuel Vaux's brothers and cousins also settled in Wisconsin - perhaps before he did. Did they buy a farm or house, or did they build one? What chores did Abby do as a teenage girl in this place? She had several younger siblings - did she watch them, teach them, or work outside the house?

Abby married Devier Smith in 1861 at the age of 16 - was she escaping a family situation, or did she fall in love with a debonair young man of 22? He was probably working for his father in the Four-Mile House inn in Rolling Prairie. After they married, where did they live? The babies came soon enough - Della in April 1862, Davie in October 1863, Matie in July 1866, and Aggie in February 1868.

Devier's mother, Mary (Bell) Smith, died in 1865 in Rolling Prairie. His father, Ranslow Smith, soon sold the Four-Mile House inn and meeting place, and moved with his son Devier and his family to Bedford township, Taylor County, Iowa. This trip was made over land - probably by coach or wagon over several weeks time - with at least three adults and three small children, and perhaps with other families, including Abby's parents, Samuel and Mary Ann Vaux, who ended up in Andrew County, Missouri before 1870. Perhaps Ranslow and the other males traveled by cart taking the household possessions to Iowa by wagon and then returned by railroad to bring the women and children. Family tragedy struck in April 1870, when the youngest girl, Agnes Bell Smith, died before age 2. How did this loss affect Abby?

Ranslow Smith married a widow, Julia Johnston, before 1870 in Taylor County, Iowa. The Samuel Vaux family settled in Andrew County, Missouri - not too far away from Taylor County, Iowa. Over time, Devier and Abby Smith moved their family to Andrew County, Missouri, into northern Kansas to Concordia in Cloud County by 1875, to Shannon in Pottawotamie County, Kansas before 1880, and back to Concordia before 1885. They had another child - Lucian, called Lutie, in June 1875, and she died in Concordia in March 1878 before her third birthday. In the 1880 census, Abby and her children headed a household in Blue Rapids township in Marshall County, Kansas with her parents.

Devier and Abby Smith bought a farm and moved their family to McCook in Red Willow County, Nebraska on the Republican River in April 1885. Devier was a land speculator, a snake-oil salesman and an inventor during these years. In McCook, he opened the Blue Front Livery Stable with his son David. He bought a "ranch" on land up the Republican River from McCook in St. Francis, Cheyenne County, Kansas, and apparently Devier settled there and left the Livery Stable to his son. The family letters indicate that he traveled back and forth to McCook. Della Smith's scrapbook indicates that she spent at least several months each year in St. Francis, as indicated by the theater playbills and her summer marriage to Henry Austin Carringer there. Where was Abigail? Was she enjoying the town life in McCook with friends, her sister Elizabeth Crouch, and her children? Or was she caring for her aging parents in Kansas? Or was she on the ranch with Devier?

After Della married Austin in September 1887, they took the train to San Diego on their honeymoon and settled in National City. Abby came to San Diego, likely by train, when Della had her two children, Devier and Lyle, in 1889 and 1891, respectively. She probably traveled back to McCook at least once to see her husband, who was in McCook permanently after selling the ranch in 1890. Her son, Davie, and daughter, Matie, both married in 1889 in McCook, and they eventually came to San Diego also.

Devier J. Smith died in May 1894 in McCook, Nebraska. Davie Smith sold his livery stable and moved to San Diego with his wife and daughter. Abby now lived full time in San Diego with Della and her family. When the Carringers bought two lots on the block on 30th Street in San Diego, Abby bought the third lot on the block. She also bought a lot and house in East San Diego by 1908, which she granted to Della in 1922. Abby carried out a fine correspondence with her sister Elizabeth (Vaux) Crouch, whose family resided in Long Beach, California, and occasionally traveled to visit that family and probably other Vaux and Underhill cousins in the Los Angeles area.

While she had daily contact with Della and her family, it's unclear if she had much contact with her son Davie and his family. Davie married twice. He divorced his first wife, Leava Smith, before 1900, but Leava and their daughter Eva lived in San Diego and married a father and son DeFrance. Davie married Amy Ashdown in 1908, and they had a daughter Maybelle. Davie died in 1920 in San Diego. The names Leava, Amy, Eva or Maybelle don't occur in Della's 1929 journal. I do hope that Abby experienced teaching her granddaughters about life, love and work - surely they would have benefited from her attention as her grandson, Lyle Carringer, did.

Abby is one of the "stars" in Della's Journal - probably more so than Austin Carringer. Della and her mother do many things together in the 1929 journal, and we read about her physical maladies as she is slowly dying from old age.

Abigail A. (Vaux) Smith died on 11 September 1931 in San Diego, and she is inurned at Cypress View Mausoleum in San Diego. She had one husband, five children, three of whom lived to adulthood, and four grandchildren.

What a life. Abby experienced so many joys, sorrows and hardships that I can hardly imagine them. She moved her household at least eight times and probably more. She observed and experienced travel improve (?) from coaches and wagons to steamships and railroad trains to automobiles and trolleys to airplanes. She witnessed communication improve from letters to telegraph to telephone to radio. She lived on farms, in towns, on a ranch, and in a growing city. She "worked" in the house to the end of her life - doing the things that she learned to do at her mother's knee and taught her daughters to do.

There are big gaps in my knowledge about Abby's life - I don't have any letters from the 1860 to 1887 time frame, or from about 1900 to 1929. The Letters from Home and Della's Journal are just short moments in time - snapshots of life in a place and time. But they are precious to me and invaluable to my family history.

What a life! How I wish she had left some memoirs - they would be worthy of a book.


Unknown said...

"passed around examples of family tree charts made from FamilyTreeMaker 16 and Legacy Charting for comparison and discussion." - what were the conclusions? Apologies if you have posted them and I missed them in my haste.
Have a great time with the grandchildren, and the rest of us will hold on tight for breaking genealogy news.

footnoteMaven said...


I can not imagine a life filled with so much change. From wagons to airplanes boggles the mind.