Saturday, March 9, 2019

My Second Great Uncle, Captain William Charles Chilson, M.D.

Since I inherited his pistol, I=ve always been curious to learn more about my second great uncle, William Charles Chilson.  And, since he didn=t leave any descendants to do it, I decided to do a little research and write up the story of his life.

Willie, as he was known as a child, was born on the 6th of August 1876 in New Lancaster, Miami Co., Kansas.  His parents were Joseph Chilson and Mary Elizabeth Cook.  He was the sixth child in a family of eight children that included my great grandmother, Mary Alice Chilson.  When he was about ten years old the family moved to Fallbrook, San Diego Co., California.  He completed his childhood in Fallbrook and then went off to college.

In 1902, he graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, Tolland Medical College.  In one later record, he describes himself as an Allopath.  This seems to have been a term for a doctor in general practice.  His mother died before his graduation but I can just imagine how proud his father was of this achievement!

He was still in San Francisco in 1904, where I found him on the voter registration list and also in the newspaper.  He was a witness in a murder case.  He was a doctor on the staff of St. Luke=s Hospital and he gave testimony as to the cause of death of a man who was murdered.

Sometime after this and before 1907, he moved to Goldfield, Esmeralda Co., Nevada to practice medicine in what was then an active gold mining town.  I haven=t been able to pin down the dates but I think he was there for about two years.

On the 28th of November 1907, he was married to Jane Ethel AJennie@ Thompson in Oakland, Alameda Co., California.  He was listed on the marriage license as a resident of Goldfield, Nevada and she was listed as a resident of San Jose, California.  The witnesses were his father, Joseph Chilson, and her father, George Willard Thompson.

I find he and Jennie living in Tulare, Tulare Co., California in 1910.  They are in a boarding house which gives me the impression that they hadn=t been there long enough to have found a place to live.  I believe they were in Alameda Co., where they were married, for a time before moving to Tulare.   According to the American Medical Association, he was licensed to practice in Alameda Co. and in Tulare Co.  In 1911, he is listed in the Tulare Mercantile Guide as a physician and surgeon.  Also, in 1911, there was a mention in the newspaper that Jane was on vacation with her husband in San Francisco.

By 1915, he had moved again and was practicing medicine in Visalia, Tulare Co. at 125 2 Kern St.  Jane is listed at their home address, 253 So. F St.  During the period 1913 to 1916, there are several Agossip column@ entries regarding various trips that she made to visit her sister, Mrs. Rowen Irwin, in Bakersfield, California.

On September 1, 1918, William Charles Chilson reported to Camp Fremont to serve in the Medical Corps during WWI.  Camp Fremont was located on a large piece of vacant land in the vicinity of the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park.  Camp Fremont no longer exists.  In fact, it was closed shortly after WWI.  Most of the land was auctioned off.  The base hospital, however, is still in use as a Veteran=s Administration Hospital.  That is where he was prepared for the Medical Corp.  He served for a year and, according to the records of the American Medical Association, he was discharged on 4 September 1919, having served as a Captain in M.R.C., U.S. Army, overseas.
Now I come to the sad part of the story.  Dr. William Charles Chilson, died in a Fresno, San Joaquin Co., California, Hotel on the 9th of March 1920.  His cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot to the heart with suicidal intent.  He left notes for his wife and his friend.  The newspaper alluded to his having been in a sanatorium.  That could mean several things regarding physical or mental health.  Since this was only six months after he returned from the war, I can=t help wondering if it was what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  I doubt if we will ever know.  I have the pistol with which he killed himself.  It was given to my father by some member of the family.

He is buried at Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose, Santa Clara Co., California, as Captain William C. Chilson.His wife Jane died 22 May 1952 and is buried next to him in the same cemetery, as are her parents.Whatever was haunting him at the time of his death, I pray he is now resting in peace.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Genealogy Goals for 2018

Here are my Genealogy Goals for 2018...

1.  Organization:  We have moved and I still don't have my office completed.  My very first goal is to get that done so I can unpack my genealogy library and access my paper files.  

2.   Research:  I plan to work on two of my lines that have run into "brick walls."  There has to be a solution out there somewhere.  I just need to take time to find it!
I plan to finish supplemental papers for DAR and Mayflower Society.  Both are started and still unfinished.

3.  DNA:  I plan to learn more about how to make the best use of my DNA results.

4.  Volunteer:  I want to spent some time helping others who have less experience and don't quite know how to proceed.  I was happy that I could do some look ups for someone I found on Facebook just last night!

5.  Education:  I plan to attend at least one Genealogy Conference this year.  No matter how many I attend, I always learn something new.

6.  Writing:  I want to get back to posting on my blog more often.  I guess this post is a start!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Private Martin B. Van Buren, Revolutionary War Patriot

I've been away from my blog for a long time, it seems!  Selling a house, buying a house, and getting moved has taken up all of my time lately.  Here, at last, is a new one!

My ancestor, Martin Benjamin Van Buren was born in about 1759 in Schodack, Rensselaer Co., New York.  He lived in his father's household until after his service in the Revolutionary War.  I believe he died after 6 November 1852 when the last document in his attempt to get a military pension was filed.  So he was probably in his 90's when he died.  His last known residence to Maryland, Otsego Co., New York.

Martin was a son of Benjamin Van Buren and Cornelia Salisbury/Salsbergen.  He was married on 5 January 1782 in Kinderhook, Columbia Co., New York to Martha "Mattie" Chesie/Chasie/Kesie (which, I believe, are Dutch phonetic spellings of the French Huguenot name Cassier).  After their marriage, they lived in Schoharie, Delaware, and Otsego Cos. in New York.  Their children were:  Cornelia, John, Benjamin, Martha, Jobje "Dollie", Maria, Peter, and Elizabeth "Betsy".  (And, yes, he was a cousin of President Martin Van Buren.)

Martin B. Van Buren served as a Private in the 4th Regiment of the New York State Militia under the command of General Van Rensselaer.  He applied for a pension 8 October 1833.  His pension application file gives a detailed report of his service.  A summary follows.

He volunteered for service on 1 May 1777 in Schodack, Rensselaer Co., New York.  He served in the Company of Lt. Phillip Staats, under the command of Col. Jacob Schermerhorn.  They marched to Stillwater, New York and then to Fishkill, New York and continued there for five months, until after the surrender of General Burgoyne and his army.  Then he returned to his father's house in Schodack.  In May of 1778, he again volunteered to serve under the same officers.  They marched to Halfmoon Point on the Hudson River.  From there they marched to Schenectady and then returned to Schodack.  This took about one month.  In July of 1778, he again served under the same officers for two months.  They marched up to Schenectady and then up the Mohawk River to Fort Herkimer at a place called German Flatts.  They stayed there a few days and then returned to Schenectady for about six weeks before returning home again.  He volunteered again in October of 1778 to serve in Capt. Staats Company which was now under the command of Col. Schuyler.  They went scouting on the Middle Fork of Schoharie Creek for about two months.  In May of 1779, he volunteered again for Capt. Staats Company which was them under the command of Major Van Buren.  They marched from Schodack to Halfmoon and then to the State of Vermont.  They did not remain in Vermont but returned to Saratoga and then to Schenectady in New York.  At the end of two months, he returned to his father's house in Schodack once again.  His last service was in October of 1779.  He volunteered for a company of light infantry commanded by Capt. James McKown.  Other officers were Lieut. Lansing and Ensign Ostrander.  They were stationed in the Middle Fork of Schoharie Creek for a month and a half before returning home to Schodack.

In his pension application, Martin B. Van Buren declared that he was born in 1759 in Schodack, Rensselaer Co., New York.  After the war, he lived in Jefferson, Schoharie Co. and Maryland, Otsego Co.  (However, I also found him on the census in Delaware Co.)  He said he was known to Green Bliven, Silas Miller, and Stephen R. Olmstead in his present neighborhood who could testify for him.  He signed the document himself.  It appears that he never received his pension.  There are documents that show his daughter, Betsy, and grandson Stephen S. Olmstead, tried to get the pension on his behalf when he was very elderly and still hadn't received it.

I have other ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War but chose to share Martin B. Van Buren because I have a lot of detail on his service and find it interesting.  I joined the DAR on his service.

Monday, September 5, 2016


Before I talk about Family Tradition as a pitfall in genealogical research, let me say this... Family Traditions can be wonderful and valid and true.  Even those that prove to be not quite true can be good clues, but we need to exercise caution.  Some family traditions are greatly exaggerated or completely fabricated.  Therefore, it is best not to accept them without proof – lest we fall into a pit. I wish someone had told me this when I first began researching my family!

Oliver Hartwell Cook
and his wife Clarissa Quincy
My ancestor, Oliver Hartwell Cook, gave rise to two traditions that proved to be untrue.  The family always said that he was named after an ancestor named Oliver Hartwell.  His father was Ralph Cook and his grandfather was Elijah Cook.  I traced them back to Putney, VT, and found a record of Elijah Cook’s marriage to Laifa Hartwell.  I also found records of the births of all of their children.  So far, so good.  The family said her father was named Oliver Hartwell.  There was a Joseph Hartwell in Putney, but no other Hartwell men of an age to be her father.  So I began to look in the surrounding neighborhood and beyond for an Oliver Hartwell.  I found several, but none the “fit” as a father for Laifa.  In the course of time, I got in touch with a Hartwell family “expert” who told me that Laifa was an nickname for Relief and she was a daughter of Joseph Hartwell of Putney – which proved to be true.  I had fallen into a pit!  I believed what the family said and didn’t look beyond it.  After all, didn’t we have a whole bevy of descendants named after Oliver Hartwell?  The family was wrong – and believing what they said caused me to not even consider the most logical person as her father.  If it hadn’t been for this tradition, I would have looked at Joseph Hartwell right away and saved myself much time and effort.  The truth is that Joseph Hartwell had a brother named Oliver who died in the Revolutionary War, leaving no descendants of his own, and my third great grandfather was named after this brother.

Another family tradition said the Oliver Hartwell Cook was born in Oswego Co., New York.  He eventually migrated to San Diego Co., California, where he was mentioned in a history book as having been born in Oswego Co.  So I began a search for his father in Oswego Co.  I gathered information on every Cook family in that county and didn’t find a single clue.  Eventually, someone said to me, “You know Oswego and Otsego sound a lot alike and have been confused before.  Why don’t you try looking in Otsego Co.?”  I did and I found his father immediately!  Here is a case where a family tradition got into print and, as a beginner, I thought anything in print must be true.  So I went off on a “wild goose chase” that could have been avoided if I had looked at the census index for the entire state of New York instead of looking only in Oswego Co. for Ralph Cook.

There are some very popular categories of family traditions that very often prove to be untrue.  Here are a few of them:

DESCENT FROM A FAMOUS PERSON.  It is particularly popular to claim descent from a United States President or from European royalty.  If your family makes such a claim, look out!  There are a whole bunch of bogus genealogies in print that claim various American immigrants are descended from English royalty – and most of them are unproven and untrue.  Use caution when trying to prove a royal descent.
Jobje "Dollie" Van Buren
daughter of Martin
Van Buren

As far as descent from a US President is concerned, I can give another example from my family that will make the point.  I have an ancestor named Martin Van Buren.  He was related to President Martin Van Buren.  My branch of the family never claimed that he was the President but, sometime after I had his lineage all proven and had even joined the DAR on his service, I received some family records from another branch of the family.  These records showed birth and death dates for him that I knew were not correct.  On a hunch, I looked up the birth and death dates of President Martin Van Buren and, you guessed it, they were his dates.  Families just love the idea of being descended from someone famous!

DESCENT FROM A NATIVE AMERICAN.  This is another popular one -- in fact, it seems to be growing in popularity.  Many people will claim it without a shred of proof.  If your family tells you that you are descended from an American Indian, don’t accept it until it is proven.  The fact is, there weren’t all that many intermarriages back in the early days, not nearly enough to account for all the people who claim such descent.

DESCENT FROM THREE BROTHERS.  For some reason, there are an excessive number of stories where a family claims that three (not two or four) brothers immigrated and the family descends from one of them.  No one knows why three brothers are more popular than another number.  All I can say is that you shouldn’t assume that any persons were brothers without proof.  Even if three (or another number) men of the same surname arrive in a town at the same time, you cannot assume that they are brothers.

DESCENT FROM A HESSIAN SOLDIER WHO CAME DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR.  It seems that many people of German descent make this claim, whether or not it is true.  If you believe you have German ancestry, you need to do some research to find out who the Hessian soldiers were.  Not every German who came, even if he came during the Revolution, was a Hessian soldier.  There are records both here and in Germany that can be used to find out if your ancestor was a Hessian soldier.  Don’t assume it without proof.

These are just some of the popular categories and examples that come to mind – enough to give you the idea, I’m sure.  I recommend that you enjoy those family traditions that you can prove and be quick to let go of those that you can’t.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I spent a portion of my childhood in Independence.  We moved there when I was 4 years old.  I have many fond memories of this small town and still love to visit.  It is located in the Owens Valley -- in the high desert between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Inyo/White Mountains.  In this blog I'm going on a little historical tour of the town.  

Independence is the Inyo County Seat.  The real focal point of downtown Independence is the Inyo County Courthouse.  It is actually the fourth Inyo County Courthouse.  Independence has been the county seat since 1866 but this neo-classical building wasn't built until 1922.  In 1998, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Three previous court houses were built in 1866, 1872, and 1886.  One was leveled by an earthquake, one was destroyed by fire, and the third one was outgrown.  When I was a child, my friends and I used to love to sneak into the courthouse and go all the way upstairs without being caught.  (photo 2014)

The Winnedumah Hotel was built in 1927 and was visited by movie stars and other celebrities in its heyday.  It was owned by the family of one of my classmates when I was a child.  It is still operating as a bed and breakfast.  In fact, I stayed there on a recent visit to Independence.  (photo 2009)

During the Civil War, an Army camp called Camp Independence was located a bit north of the present town.  This is a picture of The Commander's House which was moved into town in 1880.  When I was a child, the family of one of my classmates lived in this house.  It is no longer occupied but is being preserved for its history.  (photo 2009)

The Masonic Temple is the meeting place for the local Masons Lodge.  It was built in the 1920's .The Masons retain the upstairs in the building but rent the downstairs out to Jenny's Cafe.  One of the places I lived in Independence was a house across the side street from the Masonic Temple.  (photo 2015)

The American Legion Hall was built in the 1920's.  It has been a "community center" for almost 100 years.  Many events continue to be held here.  The bar inside the building was once part of an old saloon in Goldfield, Nevada.  I once lived in a house right across the alley from the back of the hall.  (photo 2001)

Mary Austin House.  Mary Austin was a prolific writer, poet, and playwright.  She lived in this house when she wrote her most well known book, "The Land of Little Rain."  The house is a Historical California Landmark and is still a private residence.  (photo 2001)

The Edwards House is one of the oldest homes still standing in Inyo County.  I was built in 1863 by Thomas Edwards who was the founder of the town of Independence.  When I was a child, one of my classmates lived here with her grandmother who was a great seamstress and made us matching Easter dresses one year.  (photo 2001)

The Post Office has been in several locations over the years.  Its present location was once a Waterson's Inyo Bank branch.  After that, it was a saloon for a time.  By the time my family moved to Independence, it was King's Drug Store.  Next, it became Austin's Drug Store.  We all loved the soda fountain!  When Austin's closed, the Post Office moved in and has been there for many years.  (photo 2014)

Pioneer Memorial Methodist Church is the oldest existing congregation in Inyo County.  It was founded in 1871.  The original building has had several expansions over the years.  I attended church here when we lived in Independence.  I loved to get to church first so I could help the sexton ring the bell.  My kindergarten class met in the church hall because the school's kindergarten class room was still under construction.  I also took piano lessons from the pastor's wife.  (photo 2009)

This building has become known as the Pines Cafe Building.  It is one of the oldest business building still standing in Independence.  It was still open when this picture was taken.  My memories of this building begin in the 1940's when my parents owned a hardware/sporting goods store in the corner half of the building.  At this time, the Pines Cafe was in the other half.  When we first moved to Independence, we lived in the upstairs and the back room of our store for about six months -- so this was also my first home in Independence.  When we moved our store across the street, the Post Office moved into the corner half.  When the Post Office moved out, the Pines Cafe expanded and took over the whole building.  The Pines Cafe closed in 2004 and now the building, sadly, is all boarded up.  (photo 2001, side view)
Here is a front view of the Pines Cafe after it closed.  (photo 2009)

When we moved to Independence in the 1940's, Mairs' Market occupied the left half of this building.  There was a variety store in the other half.  After about two years, my parents bought the variety store and moved our hardware/sporting goods store into it -- Hillier Hardware became and hardware/sporting goods/variety store.  My father did gun smithing on the side.  His most famous customer was John Wayne.  He was filming a movie in Lone Pine but was hunting in his free time.  His gun broke and someone sent him to my father to get it fixed.  When we moved from Independence, Omie and Glorian Mairs bought our store, took down the wall, and had one big store that sold just about everything.  Mairs Market continued in the this building until a few years ago.  It closed but recently the Owens Valley Growers Co-Op has moved in.  (photo 2009)

I have many more pictures and many more memories of Independence but I think I'll stop for now.  I hope you've enjoyed my little trip down memory lane.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Blog About My Daddy For Father's Day

This is me with my Daddy and Mother.
My father, Hartwell Russell George Hillier (better known as Rus) was born on 16 February 1906 in Fallbook, San Diego Co., California.  I've already written a blog about all the places he lived as a child.  As an adult, he lived in Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and Long Beach in Los Angeles Co., California.  He also lived in Fallbrook, San Diego Co., California and Independence, Inyo Co., California and Seal Beach, Orange Co., California and in Westerville, Franklin Co., Ohio and in Toccoa, Stephens Co., Georgia.

When I was born, during WWII, my Daddy was working at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach.  He was Personnel Manager for the Engineering Department.  In spite of being too old for the draft and having a defense job, he wanted to do his part, so he joined the Coast Guard Reserves and patrolled off of the coast one night a week for a year.

My Daddy loved to fish and hunt.  He especially liked to do these things in the Owens Valley, Eastern Sierra area.  I was only four years old (so heard this story from my parents) when he came home from one of his trips and announced that we were moving to Independence.  My mother asked, "Missouri?"  She had never been to Independence, California!  There was a hardware/sporting goods store for sale in Independence.  His plan was to buy the store and live where he could fish and hunt right in his own neighborhood.  So off we went! 
This is my dad on one of his hunting trips.

I loved living in Independence as a child!  However, eventually, my parents realized that they just couldn't make a living there so we moved back to the city.  My father, once again, took up his career as a mechanical engineer.  He even invented some things that were patented by companies that he worked for in the aerospace industry.  

Besides his engineering career and his love of fishing and hunting, he also loved to build things (especially woodworking), was a gunsmith, and a great cook.  He built a garage on one of our houses, built a boat for fishing, and there wasn't anything he couldn't fix.  

I learned many things from my Dad...
-- He taught me to fish.  I caught my first fish at about age 7.
-- He taught me how to paint and wallpaper a room.  Something that has served me in good stead over the years.
-- He taught me how to properly set a table.  He was a real stickler for this!
-- I sort of inherited his love of fixing things.
-- And much more!
My dad and I on his 95th birthday.

For his 100th birthday, Daddy took a sky dive!  He died just a few weeks before his 101st birthday, while staying with my brother in Toccoa, Georgia, on 7 January 2007.  He is buried in a family plot in Fallbrook, California.  
PS -- One thing I forgot to say about my dad...  He was a great story teller!  I wouldn't know nearly so much about my extended family if it weren't for his stories.

Monday, April 27, 2015


In the Summer of 1990, I took a trip to Missouri and Kansas in search of my Russell ancestors and relatives.  I stayed with Rosie Russell Gaul and her husband Harold in St. Joseph, Missouri.  Rosie is a distant cousin, now deceased, who had a great interest in family history.  Rosie and Harold took me all over Buchanan Co., Missouri, and Miami Co., Kansas, to meet family members, both dead and alive.

Before I visited, Rosie had remembered that her mother told her about an old Russell family cemetery.  It was on the property of John C. Russell, a brother of my second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell, near Faucett, Missouri.  This property passed out of the Russell family many years before.  Rosie figured out where it was and went to talked to the home owner.  She asked if they knew anything about an old cemetery that used to be on that property.  Yes, they know all about it!

They told her that one of the previous owners had wanted to plant a lawn where the cemetery was located.  So they removed the grave stones and threw them over the line fence into the neighbor's woods.  They showed her where.  After getting permission from the neighbor, she and Harold climbed over the line fence and found the stones.  A couple of them were in tact but most were broken and, undoubtedly, some were missing.  So sad.

When I visited in 1990, they got permission from both property owners and took me there.  This was really exciting for me since one of those stones was that of my second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell.  I climbed over the line fence -- which was covered with poison ivy -- and had a great time looking at and taking pictures of the stones.  Rosie and Harold had propped some of them up and pieced some of them together on the ground on their previous visit.  Below are some pictures of how they looked.         (Read on after you look at these pictures.)

My second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell's stone before restoration.

The next day, we went to the Pattee House Museum in St. Joseph.  This museum is amazing.  It has a collection of everything, from light bulbs to pottery to cameras to...  you name it!  As we were leaving, a man was coming toward us down the hall.  Rosie said, "That's the curator of the museum." I said, "I wonder if he would like some tombstones for his collection?"  She knew just what I had in mind!  We
stopped and talked to him and told him the story.  Yes!  He wanted them!

After I went home, Rosie got permission from both property owners and met the museum crew there one day.  They took all the stones back to the museum and had them restored.  They did an incredible job!  In 1991, the stones were installed on the lawn of the museum for all to see!  Here's what they look like now.

My second great grandfather, Joseph Tipton Russell's stone is upper right in picture.

Pattee House Museum, St. Joseph, Missouri