The prompt this week is “In the Census.” In sticking with what has become my theme this year, I am writing about another female ancestor. This week it is my great-grandmother Alice Bertha James Garner. She was born in 1876 and died in 1961. Keeping in mind that only the names of the head of household were listed prior to 1850, Alice is my female ancestor who, at this point, will appear in the most censuses by name. She was enumerated from 1880 to 1940 and will be on the 1950 and 1960 censuses when they are eventually released.
Alice was born on July 25, 1876 to Charles Morgan James and Emma E. Ibach.1 Her father Charles was a prominent and prosper miller. He began milling in 1859 at the age of about 21 or 22, following in the foot-steps of his father Benjamin F. James. A couple of years later he married Emma E. Ibach, daughter of William Ibach and Sarah Wien. By 1872 he and his young family were living in Coventryville, Chester County, Pennsylvania where he owned and operated a mill.2 It was in Coventryville that my great-grandmother Alice was born.
Alice was the youngest of the nine known children born to Charles and Emma. They were Annie, William, Sarah, Laura, Charles, twins Harold and Edward who both died in infancy, Alfred who also died in infancy and Alice.3 The 1880 census is the the first in which Alice appears. The family was enumerated in Coventryville, Chester, Pennsylvania. All of the older children (from 17-year old Annie to 8-year old Charles) attended school. Alice, being only 3, did not.4 The family portrait shown below was taken at their home about that time.
Unfortunately, not too long after the above photo was taken, Emma Ibach James died of cancer. She died in 1884, just weeks before Alice turned eight.5 One of my aunts (who has since passed away) believed that Charles remarried and that Alice was raised by a step-mother. Alice could apparently skin potatoes with a paring knife removing very little of the potato itself. According to my aunt, Alice was forced to learn this skill from her step-mother. However, in years of searching, I have never been able to find any record that suggests that Charles remarried. He obviously would have needed help on the domestic front. Perhaps it was actually Alice’s step-grandmother, the second wife of her grandfather Benjamin F. James, or an aunt, other relative or even a housekeeper who stepped in after her mother’s death.
I have also been told by various family members that Alice was well-educated. Some say she attended Normal School. Normal Schools were the original name of what were later called the Pennsylvania State Teacher’s Colleges and now are the PSSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) universities. It is my understanding that in Alice’s day these schools would have had a 2 year program. The James family lived closest to the normal schools in West Chester and Kutztown, but I have not been able to find any corroborating evidence to suggest that Alice attended either of these schools. Another aunt has told me that Alice attended Ellis School for Girls. This sounds to me like a “finishing” school, but I have not been able to find any information on it.
In 1896, just weeks before her 20th birthday, Alice and her beau Nathan Garner married in Camden, New Jersey.6 Nathan had rather humble roots compared to Alice. His father David was a stone-mason. The family lived in a small house on the north side of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania where David was probably employed by the Phoenix Iron Company.7 Nathan, however, grew-up on the East Coventry farm of Nathan and Eliza Moyer.8 Eliza was a sister to Nathan’s mother Margaret Youngblood. No one is quite sure why Nathan lived with his aunt and uncle. Maybe the Moyers, who only had two children of their own, needed help. David and Margaret had a family of four sons and three daughters. Perhaps because Nathan was the namesake of his uncle, he was the one chosen to go live on the farm.
No one in my immediate family knows the story of how Alice and Nathan met. If Nathan had lived in Phoenixville with his family, their paths may never have crossed. But fortunately for all of their descendants, they did meet, marry and raise a large family. By the 1900 census they were the parents of 3 children – including a new-born.9 About that time Lawrence (the eldest and my grandfather) was sent to live with Nathan’s cousin Flora Moyer and her husband Hilary Epright. Flora was one of the cousins with whom Nathan was raised. No one is sure whether Lawrence’s situation was supposed to be temporary, but as Nathan and Alice had more children and less space, it became permanent. By 1910 Nathan, Alice and their enlarging family lived on a rented farm in East Coventry.10 By 1920, they were in a small rented home in the borough of Pottstown and Nathan was working as a laborer at a foundry.11
In a span of 22 years, Alice and Nathan had 10 children. They were Lawrence, Elizabeth, Anna, Frank, Sara, Harry & Charlie (twins), Laura, Mary and Leonard. Unfortunately, Nathan died in 1925. He was only 53 years old, but his death certificate suggests that he may have suffered a stroke.12 Alice had five children who were still under 18 at the time. Leonard, the youngest, was seven. Ironically he was the same age that she was when she lost her mother. Alice and her younger children continued living in the same rented house in Pottstown through 1930 and 1940.13,14 In fact, I believe that Alice and her sons Frank and Leonard, neither of whom ever married, lived there until Alice’s death.
Alice died in October of 1961, By then she had lost not only her husband, but also her three oldest children. Anna, who was the newborn baby in 1900, died in 1943. Elizabeth, who was born in 1898, died in 1949. And Alice’s eldest child, my grandfather Lawrence, died of a heart attack in May of 1961. Alice died only two months later in July. At the time of her death she was survived by seven children, 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.15
Alice is buried in Edgewood Cemetery in Pottstown, PA next to her husband Nathan.16
- Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Death cert for Alice B. Garner
- “Obituary of Charles M. James,” Daily Pottstown Ledger, 3 August 1908, contains biographical information.
- List of the children of Charles James & Emma Ibach, in Family Papers Collection, privately held by Janis Tomko, [address for private use]. hand written notes of Dr. Laura Yeager Sampsell.
- 1880 United States Federal Census[database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Census Place: Coventryville, Chester, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1115; Page: 422A; Enumeration District: 096. Household of Charles M. James
- “Death from a Surgical Operation,” Montgomery Ledger, 8 July 1884, obituary of Emma E. James.
- Marriage Certificate. Privately held by Janis Tomko., Marriage Certificate of Nathan M. Garner and Alice James
- 1880 U.S. census, Heritage Quest, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T9, roll 1115, PA, Chester, Phoenixville, enumeration district (ED) 86, p. 278, dwelling 395, family 418, Garner, David (head), accessed 8 Oct 2009.
- 1880 U.S. census, Heritage Quest, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T9, roll 1115, East Coventry, Chester County, Pennsylvania, enumeration district (ED) 94, p. 393, Nathan Moyer – head of household, accessed 8 Oct 2009.
- 1900 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T623, roll 1442, Limerick, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, enumeration district (ED) 209, sheet 3A, p. 281 (stamped), Nathan Garner – head of household, accessed 6 Jan 2011.
- 1910 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T624, roll 1327, East Coventry, Chester County, Pennsylvania, enumeration district (ED) 18, sheet 10B, Nathan M. Garner – head of household, accessed 6 Jan 2011.
- 1920 U.S. census, Heritage Quest, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T625, roll 1607, PA, Montgomery, Pottstown, enumeration district (ED) 161, sheet 8A, p. 130, dwelling 159, family 169, Garner, Nathan (head), accessed 8 Oct 2009.
- Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Death cert for Nathan M. Garner
- 1930 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T626, roll 2084, Pottstown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, enumeration district (ED) 121, sheet 13B, Alice Garner – head of household, accessed 6 Jan 2011
- Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Census Place: Pottstown, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: m-t0627-03583; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 46-172. Household of Alice Garner
- “Chester County Native Dies At Age 85,” The Pottstown Mercury, 18 October 1961, obituary of Alice James Garner.
- Tombstone Photographs – digital images (privately held by Janis Tomko), Edgewood Cemetery (Pottstown), photographed 6/12/2005.