Blog post by Randi Richardson

Few people today have any memory of Christmas Eve from a century ago, December 24, 1918.  What we do know of that day is from the local newspaper, Bloomington Evening World.  Unlike Bloomington newspapers today that typically consist of four sections with local, national and international news, sports and ads, the Bloomington Evening World in 1918 had only four pages.

Winter 1918 looking west on Kirkwood.  Published as part of “Our Bloomington of Yesteryear,” column, Item No. 366, on an unspecified date in the Herald Telephone.

According to the news of the day, Christmas Eve in Bloomington in 1918 was snowy and the temperature was expected to drop in the night.  In spite of inclement weather, it was reported that carolers planned to sing at every home with a light in the window.  It was also announced that all stores would be closed on Christmas Day.

In 1918, the flu was prevalent in the county as it was elsewhere in the nation.  Two Monroe County deaths were reported.  Elmer Chambers, 37, died of the flu at his home in Harrodsburg, and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Moore, who lived southwest of Harrodsburg, also died.  He was only seven years old.  James Koontz of Harrodsburg had the flu and was yet alive but in critical condition.

Much like the people today, a century ago families gathered to celebrate the holidays together.  Some traveled away from home to other places, and some from other places came home.

Bernice Lanam of St. Louis came home to spend the holidays with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Laman.  Inez Lentz of N. Walnut Street returned from Washington, D. C., were she had been doing government work since July.  Mr. and Mrs. Ray Wingert were here from Dayton, Ohio to visit Mrs. Wingert’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Davis.  Mrs. W. H. Adams was visited by her daughter, Mrs. William Griffey, of Newcastle.  Mr. and Mrs. R. M. Foster were visited by their daughter, Chloe Foster, one of Bloomington’s most successful school teachers who was employed in Chicago.  J. H. Radcliff, a secretary of the YMCA stationed at Rockford, Ill., was home for the holidays visiting his parents on Third Street.

Those from Bloomington who traveled away from home included Robert Easton who went to Indianapolis to the home of his sister, Cleo.  Mr. and Ms. J. B. Green went to Hoopeston, Illinois to visit their son, Lee.  Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Thomas were at Danville with Mrs. Thomas’ sister, Mrs. F. H. Chesley.  Mrs. Fred Campbell was at Indianapolis with her sisters, Mrs. William Akin and Mrs. Fred Scott.  Dr. and Mrs. J. E. P. Holland were spending a week at Milwaukee with Mrs. Holland’s parents, and Mrs. Frank Tyrrell (consider Terrell a spelling variant) was in Deland, Florida, to spent the winter with Mr. and Mrs. S. E. Carmichael.

In November 1918, the end of the World War made headlines across the nation.  During succeeding weeks there was often news of men being sent home or to hospitals on trains passing through Bloomington.  There was no such news on Christmas Eve., but Mrs. W. N. Matthews received word that her son, “Buddie,” had been ordered home immediately

A century ago the settlement of estates belonging to the deceased was often in the news.  On Christmas Eve it was noted that John F. Regester, administrator, gave notice of the final settlement of the estate of Amelia Taylor.  W. H. H. Parks, administrator, gave notice of the settlement of the estate of Hiley Ann Chestnut.  Nancy E. Adams, administratrix, gave notice of the final settlement of the estate of George Adams.  John P. Tourner, administrator, gave notice of the final settlement of the estate of Julia C. Wilson.  Sherman L. Davis, administrator, gave notice of the final settlement of the estate of Maude V. Davis.  Frank R. Woolley was appointed administrator of the estate of Mary E. Bishop deceased; and Michael Bourke was appointed administrator of the estate of Catherine Pearl Polley, deceased.

There was brief mention that bids had been let to furnish supplies for the county poor farm and a report that the new city hospital, already under construction, would be dedicated in honor of the “boys from Monroe County who offered their lives in the World War.” Seems like the latter, so badly needed in Bloomington, would have been bigger news than it was.

This summarized a majority of the local news in Bloomington and Monroe County a century ago.




Blog post by Randi Richardson

Roughly a century ago, with the signing of an armistice by Germany, the World War ended.  The date was November 11, 1918, and that war wasn’t yet known as World War I.

At 2 AM the following morning, news of the event reached Bloomington with the blowing of locomotive whistles at McDoel yards quickly followed by the ringing of the fire alarm and the big whistles of the Showers factory.  It was music to the ears of the sleeping city that fighting was at an end.

In an unbelievably short time, people began collecting about the square, hurrying from every direction.

Only minutes earlier soundly asleep in warm beds, they now celebrated victory in the chilly air of darkness.

Within an hour a great bonfire was burning near city hall.  Soon the city band was on the streets headed by Charles Stineburg.  Then Co. F appeared.  Joined by hundreds, all marched about the streets under moonlit skies, cheering with joy, shaking hands with one another.

Armistice Day Celebration in Bloomington, November 11, 1918.  View from the southeast corner of Kirkwood and College looking northwest.  Courtesy IU Archives.

As the hundreds of employees at the Showers factory came to work, they were notified by the general manager, Edward Showers, that it would be a holiday.  At 8 AM the factory whistle sounded again and the employees formed a procession and marched uptown where Showers, from the southwest corner of the lawn, made a brief talk.  He told briefly of the great victory and congratulated the workers on their loyalty and assistance in the war work.

The Monon Shop Men, with a large banner and a flag at their head, united with the procession of workers from Showers.  Students, too, having been dismissed for the day from their classes, took part in the big parade as did members of the university’s Student Army Training Corps who were prominent in the procession.  Autos joined the hundreds of citizens on foot cheering and singing.

It was a day like no other.  One people—no politics, no church, no creed—all true-blooded American citizens happy in the victory for peace.

Throughout the day large crowds gathered around the bulletin window of the Telephone office making inquiries and reading with joy the glad tidings.  Happy fathers and mothers, sisters and sweethearts rejoiced as they thought of loved ones “over there,” in army camps and everywhere at home and abroad who would soon be marching home to the patriotic airs of peace beneath the flag they either had or were ready to defend.  No one knew just how soon the boys would be back home, but the time of “shot and shell” was over, and most assuredly they would be returning home in the near future.

As the day of celebration ended, The Daily Herald Telephone published a record of the events for posterity.  No doubt there was hope, even then, that this would be the last celebration of its kind to acknowledge America’s involvement in a World War, a war that claimed the lives of thirty-four soldiers from Monroe County.  Sadly, however that was not to be.


Don Matson Has Died

Among other materials compiled and donated by Don Matson, the Monroe County History Center has two boxes of index cards for the Coffey family.

Donald Keith Matson, aka Donnie, died November 23, 2018, at the age of 75.  His obituary was not published until December 2.  Perhaps that’s because he had no immediate family to survive him.

Lots of people with deep roots in Monroe County are related to Donnie.  Practically everyone.  If not you, then your spouse.  He also said he had traced his ancestors back to Noah and the ark.  And according to his obituary, Adam and Eve.  Of course he couldn’t provide sources to prove those connections.  It wasn’t his way.  He took people at their word and believed much of what he read without corroboration or evidence.

The obituary mentioned that Donnie had several interests.  Most people that knew him might find that surprising.  Genealogy certainly appeared to be his one true love, his only passion.  He’d been charting his own family and that of others since he was 16 years old.  When the rest of us were dating, playing sports and watching the idiot box, Donnie was charting.

In the years before Ancestry put digital images of census records online, Donnie created an index to census records 1820 to and including 1850.  Chances are that he accessed the records on microfilm at IU’s main library.  It’s also likely that he transcribed the information by hand.  What a labor intense project.  The index was published in 1979 and heavily used until the early 1990s when Rachel Rice compiled a more comprehensive index on her computer.

As much work as that project surely was, it wasn’t Donnie’s only publication nor was it his first.  In 1974 he created an index to all of Monroe County’s mortality schedules (1850-1880), and about 1975 finished an index to Monroe County marriage records (1818-1875).  A complete list of his publications can be found on the MCPL website.

Several years ago Donnie donated to the Monroe County History Center library much of the genealogy materials he had accumulated throughout the years.  There is a substantial amount of information about the Coffey family kept separately and the remainder, mostly in the form of handwritten notes, placed into the Center’s family files.

Donnie’s work in genealogy is a part of his legacy.  His devotion and passion for the work he did will be missed.

Charley Nelson Defined by the “One Drop” Rule

Blog post by Randi Richardson

registrationOn June 5, 1917, Charley Nelson, age 22, a resident of Bloomington, Indiana, registered for the draft of World War I.  Because Charley’s ability to read and write was limited, as illustrated by his poorly written signature at the bottom of the card, someone else filled in the information for him.  In what appears to be in a different hand than the rest of the information, it is noted that Charley is of “African descent.”

On Monday, April 22, 1918, when the newspaper announced that Charles Nelson had been drafted and his name was among the 47 “Monroe County boys” to head to Camp Taylor on Saturday, April 27, Charley’s mother, Ella Nelson, took immediate action.  The very next day she went before the conscription board and demanded that Charley be sent to war with white soldiers rather than colored troops.

The board, so it claimed, based their decision about Charley’s placement with the colored troops on information provided at the time the registration card was completed.   More specifically, the answer to the question of Charley’s race.

Ella disagreed with how Charley’s race was recorded.  Never mind who provided the information.  She hired Attorney Frank Regester to “get up the necessary papers” to prove that Charley, a son by her husband, Tom Nelson, was only 1/16 negro by blood, that his great grandfather was “a pure, white man” and the great grandmother “one half negro.”  This made the grandfather “one-quarter negro” and he married a “pure, white woman” which makes Tom Nelson, the boy’s father, “one-eighth negro, and he married a pure, white woman which made Charley 1/16 colored and 15/16 white.”

Regester was asked to show the board “that under present Indiana law, a man of 1/8 negro blood is allowed to enter into a marriage contract with a white woman, and so is entitled to be regarded as white” and eligible to go to war with white soldiers.  Charley, with only 1/16 negro blood, certainly met that requirement.

Although the outcome of the action taken by Ella is unknown, there is no doubt that Charley, officially known as Charles Gordon Nelson, did his part during World War I.  In the 1930 federal census, Charley, a “negro,” is identified as a veteran of WWI.  He was enumerated with his white mother, Ella, in Richland Township, Monroe County, Indiana.  And on his flat, granite marble tombstone of military issue at Rose Hill Cemetery, it is noted that he died on December 15, 1954, and served as a “Pvt 2 Prov Sch Det FACOTS,” the latter an acronym for Field Artillery Center Officer Training School located at Camp Zachary Taylor in Kentucky.

A close review of various vital records and military pension applications indicate Charley’s line of descent as follows:  his parents were Ephraim Thomas “Tom” Nelson and Ella (Fender) Nelson.  Tom is consistently identified as black or mulatto and Ella as white.  The couple married in Hamilton County, Ohio, 1893, though there is no evidence they ever lived in Ohio.

An image from the 1900 Monroe County (IN) census record showing Charley Nelson with his racially-mixed family.

Tom’s paternal grandfather, Ephraim T. Nelson, is consistently identified as black or mulatto.  In 1859 he married Mary Ann Fender, white, in Sandwich, Canada, along the Canadian-US border of the Detroit River having gone there from Indiana for about ten days and claiming to be residents of Detroit, Michigan.  Ephraim was drafted to serve in the Civil War; he died of the measles in Tennessee in 1865 less than a year after he was mustered in.

Tom’s paternal great grandparents were Jesse and Lucinda “Lucy” Nelson.  Jesse, born August 16, 1790, in South Carolina, was white and Lucy was identified in census records as black.  However, if Ella was correct in what she told the conscription board, Lucy was only half black.  Perhaps she was one of the 26 slaves previously owned by Jesse, the only white person in his household noted in the 1840 census record in Fairfield District, South Carolina.  Their place of marriage is not known.

Tom’s paternal great great grandfather, James Nelson, was a Revolutionary War veteran. His pension application, and that of his widow, Margaret (Turner) Nelson, is available online at Fold3.  James died on May 28, 1832, and Margaret in 1845.  Afterward the pension was assigned to the two surviving sons, Jesse and his brother, Daniel.

If one looks back at Charley’s paternal ancestors, Charley was consistently defined as either black or mulatto due to the “one-drop” rule meaning that a single drop of black blood, his great grandmother Lucy’s, makes a person black.  Because Lucy was either black or biracial, all those who descended from her were identified as black.  Undoubtedly, however, the color of their skin became lighter and lighter as one after the other of his ancestors married whites.  Many of Lucy’s descendants moved away from Indiana in order to avoid Indiana’s restrictive laws related to blacks and interracial marriage.  Thankfully, throughout the U. S. today those laws either no longer exist or have been much relaxed,  but one must, however, ask if the changes are great and far-reaching enough.

SOURCES:  Bloomington (IN) Evening World, April 22, 1918, p. 1.

Bloomington (IN) Daily Telephone, April 24, 1918, p. 1.

Military pension record for James Nelson, Revolutionary War soldier

Military pension record for Ephraim T. Nelson, veteran of the Civil War

Military pension record for Mary A. Nelson, widow of Ephraim T. Nelson


Blog post by Randi Richardson

Randi and Nathan early 1972.

Christmas is typically a day when families gather to celebrate.  I’d like to share with you a story of my most memorable Christmas.  It was in 1971 with the arrival of a baby.

While most babies are born in a hospital, our baby came from the Glendale Mall in Indianapolis.  We met a person from the agency at the agreed upon time in front of a store the name of which I don’t recall.  It was mid-December and chilly.  The baby was wearing a pastel green onesie that I still have nearly 50 years later.

The baby was handed to me, and my husband took him immediately.  It was love at first sight for a father and his son.

We came bearing gifts as we were told to do.  A white, soft teddy bear purchased in the hours before our meeting.  Other than this, we had nothing for a baby as we learned that we would be parents only the day before.  Hardly believing our good fortune, we didn’t so much as buy a diaper.  The less invested we were, the less we would hurt if something fell through.

The lady from the agency left us alone at the mall for an hour or so.  When she returned, she asked if we would like to keep the baby.  Oh, yes!  “Okay,” she said.  “Go ahead home and we’ll follow up with you.  Was this for real?  Who gets a baby in a mall?

As we headed back to Bloomington we chose a name for our new baby.  Not even bothering to stop at home, we headed to the home of Richard’s mother, Betty (Skirvin) Richardson, in Smithville.  This was her first grandchild.  On Cedar Bluff Road we were met by Richard’s sister, Cherie, who turned the car around and met us at Betty’s.

A few days later on Christmas morning, Richard’s little brother, Bryne woke up about 4 AM.  Betty called us in Bloomington with a heads up.  We hurried to Smithville to celebrate Christmas with family.  What a memorable occasion!

What is your most memorable Christmas?