April 26, 2011

More Questions than Answers: Augusta Bishop

Don’t you love those ancestors who left a nice paper trail for you to follow? With time and study, you come to know and understand them, forging a bond of kinship across the ages. Then there are those who generated precious few records, leaving only crumbs for their descendants to trace. When questions outnumber the answers, it’s harder to create that bond.

My husband’s great-great-grandmother, Augusta Bishop, was one of the latter. So far I’ve located just four records on which her name appears: her marriage certificate, the 1860 census, her death record, and this tombstone in Freedom West Cemetery in Freedom, Ohio. Now worn and nearly indecipherable, the stone originally read, “AUGUSTA, Wife of Albert Bishop, Died Dec. 25, 1878, Aged 38 years.” The marker is unadorned, the message simple and straightforward. But here’s the first tug at my heartstrings: she died on Christmas Day. At 38 years old.

Augusta married Albert F. Bishop on February 23, 1859, in Portage County, Ohio. Her maiden name on the certificate appears as Augusta Dyke. Her death record says she was born in Shalersville in Portage County. I haven’t been able to identify her parents or find a Dyke family with a daughter Augusta in the 1850 census, so her origins are still a mystery. Could she possibly be the 10-year-old Augusta Dyler or Dyke living in the household of Nathan Severance in Shalersville? If so, why? Was she orphaned? Chalk one up for the questions.

I like to think the first couple of years of Albert and Augusta’s marriage were happy ones. The 1860 census of Freedom Township in Portage County shows them with their three-month-old son, Theodore. Albert, age 21, was working as a laborer, and Augusta was 19. But the good times did not last. Albert fell ill with consumption, and died in January 1865, shortly before their sixth anniversary. (You can read Albert’s story here.)

Finding herself a widow at age 24, with a five-year-old son, must have been difficult for Augusta. It appears she was unable to keep her son, for by 1870 ten-year-old Theodore Bishop was living as a servant in the household of Watson and Eunice Allen in Hiram. My efforts to locate Augusta in 1870 have proven fruitless so far. A search of the guardians’ dockets in Portage County does not show any entry for Theodore, nor is there any mention of the Allens. Was Theodore apprenticed to Watson Allen? If so, where was Augusta? More questions.

Augusta died of consumption—the same illness that claimed her husband—that Christmas in 1878. At the time of her death, she was living in Hiram and working as a housekeeper. Her only living relatives were her son, Theodore, now 18, and her mother-in-law, Sarah Ann Bishop. One of them must have arranged for her to be buried beside Albert in the Bishop family plot in Freedom West Cemetery.

As I write this, I realize Augusta’s life reads largely like a tragedy. Possibly living apart from her parents by 10 years old, widowed and a single mother by 24, separated from her young son, and dead at 38—that’s not exactly a life of ease and contentment. But through her has come a strong line of Bishop descendants. I find I want to know more, to dig deeper and find the answers to my questions, if I can. In a way, the unknowns of Augusta’s life are creating their own bonds, pulling me toward discovering her story.

Robert Bishop (my father-in-law) with the markers of his great-grandparents,
Albert and Augusta Bishop, in Freedom West Cemetery in Freedom, Ohio

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  1. Oh Yes. So many of those lost ancestors...especially the women. My third great grandmother just has Grandma Thompson and the years on her stone. And the years are wrong because apparently it was put on way after her death. Poor Grandma Thompson.

  2. Rita, I sympathize with you. Not even a first name? Makes you wonder what those grandchildren were thinking! Good luck and thanks for commenting!


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