May 15, 2011

James Ballenger Suddenly Stricken - Sunday's Obituary

At the Ohio Historical Society last week, I discovered an obituary for my great-great-grandfather, James Ballenger, which appeared on the front page of the Westerville, Ohio Public Opinion. Besides providing a wealth of genealogical information, it paints a vivid picture of his last hours. (A word of explanation: "Africa" in this case refers to Africa, Ohio, a small community north of Westerville in Delaware County. Africa got its name from a particularly active section of the Underground Railroad, nicknamed the "Africa Road," that ran through the area.)
James M. Ballenger, of Africa,
Meets Death WIthout Warning

     James Madison Ballenger, son of Charles and Elizabeth Ballenger, was born in Athens County, O., Jan. 19, 1858, and died at his home near Africa, March 7, 1913, being 58 years, 2 months and 16 days old.
     His last sickness was very brief, he having arisen as usual and after a hearty breakfast nearly completed his morning chores, when he came to the house and complained of feeling weak. In a few moments he grew rapidly worse and said to his wife, "Let me lie down to die." His last words were a prayer for divine grace and mercy to prepare him for the presence of Jesus.
     January 19, 1881, he married Anna Payne, who with his four children, Charles of Westerville, Clarence of Detroit, Mich., Cecil and Cyril who are at home, one brother, Charles, and four sisters, mourn his sudden death.
     "When my heart the world is rending
      With its heaviest storm of care,
       My glad heart to God ascending
Finds a refuge from despair.
    There is a hand of mercy near me
       Tho' the waves of troubled roar;
            There's an hour of rest to cheer me
    When the toils of life are o'er.
Gently, Lord, O gently lead us
      Thru this lonely vale of tears;
                      Thru the changes thou hast decreed us,
             Til our last great change appears;
      When temptation's darts assail us,
      Let thy goodness never fail us,
           When in devious paths we stray,
   Lead us in thy perfect way."
     The funeral was held at Mr. Ballenger's late home, where a large circle of acquaintances paid their last respects to him who so recently was one of us. Rev. Arthur Smith, pastor of the Wesleyan church at Africa, spoke briefly from Psa. 46: 1-2, after which the body was laid away in Otterbein Cemetery.
Card of Thanks
     We wish to thank our dear friends and neighbors for their kindness at the death of our loving father and husband, and also for the beautiful tribute of flowers.
                                                                                             Mrs. Anna Ballenger
                                                                                             and Children

I can't imagine what Anna must have felt that day when her husband of 32 years walked in from his morning chores (she was probably in the middle of her own) and told her he needed to lie down and die. What do you say in response to that? The official cause of death on James' death certificate was "Neuralgia of heart." I found "neuralgia" defined as "severe sharp stabbing paroxysmal of pain," so to my non-medical eye it sounds like he suffered a heart attack.

One new piece of information I gained from the obituary is James' middle name, Madison. All the other records I have for him only give the initial M. There are discrepancies, however, between the obituary, tombstone, and death certificate on two important points: the year of birth and the day of death. The death certificate and tombstone both say James was born in 1855, making him 58 years old in 1913. The obituary confirms he was 58 years old, but gives his year of birth as 1858 (which would make him only 55). I tend to trust the certificate and tombstone on this point. The tombstone and obituary both say he died on March 7, but the death certificate reads a scrawled March 8. I'm less sure about which is correct for this one. My next steps are to look for a probate file and funeral home record. Maybe one of them will settle the matter. Either way, it was not a good day for the Ballenger family.
   James M. Ballenger obituary, Public Opinion (Westerville, Ohio), 13 March 1913, p. 1 col. 5.
   "Ohio Deaths 1908-1953," digital image, FamilySearch ( accessed 12 May 2011), death certificate no. 14644 (1913), James M. Ballenger; citing original records of Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
    Otterbein Cemetery (Westerville, Franklin County, Ohio), J. M. Ballenger marker, section 3; personally read, 2010.

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