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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist


Three tiny details have remained with me, years after working with the local cemetery in my youth. One is Lena.

In transcribing the records, I noted that Mr. C.O. Ross purchased the first deeded burial lot in Rose Hill Cemetery in Lincoln Township, Calhoun County, Iowa. The deed was issued in the fall of 1884 for $10. There had been burials in the cemetery beginning in 1879, but this must have been the first lot sold in this manner. Each lot in the earlier part of the cemetery contained six plots. Buried in this lot are Mrs. C. Ross (Lena F.), an infant Ross, and an unnamed Ross. Lena Ross died aged 18 years, one month, and fourteen days. She is buried with at least one baby—and very likely two.

The name Ross was not familiar to me as part of the town’s history. Three of the six burial plots in the Ross lot remain empty, suggesting that no other members of this family ever needed a pre-paid burial plot in Manson, Iowa. It was significant to me at the time because Lena seemed very young and very alone. Mr. C.O. Ross must have moved on. She remained Mrs. C.O. Ross—the name Lena just a parenthetical afterthought. The babies she was buried next to didn’t have names at all. She seemed robbed of years as well as an identity outside that of her husband.

So today I learned a little more about Lena.

The details on Lena’s headstone are hard to read. Her name has been transcribed in online records as Lena E., but the name on the cemetery record and her death record is clearly Lena F.

Lena’s entry in the death register of Calhoun County gives a little information. She was born in Massachusetts, circa 1866. She was married. She had been under the care of a physician for the seven days prior to her death, the cause which is not listed as childbirth, as I had suspected for many years. Instead, the young woman succumbed to “nervous prostration.” She died as a result of what in a later time would have been called an emotional breakdown. Today, we can surmise the culprit was depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, or an underlying mental disorder. Aged 18 years, one month, and 14 days.

Chauncey Otis Ross was born in Wisconsin but was living in Manson on the 1880 census, with his brother Mervin and sister-in-law Frances. That couple and their daughter are buried in their own lot in the same cemetery as Lena, all having achieved old age. Also buried there are Chauncey and Mervin’s parents—also in their own plots. [Further investigation of county records suggests that one of the children buried near Lena was a premature baby boy in 1885, born in the township where Mervin and Frances lived. Of the unnamed Rosses buried with Lena, one is most likely this child.]

I find no marriage record for C.O. Ross in this area between 1880 and 1884. He was living in Manson in 1880 and at the time he buried his wife in 1884. Lena likely intersected with her future husband in that same place.

On the 1880 census, Lena F. Cady is 13 years old and is living with her family in Manson. She was born in Massachusetts around 1867—or 1866 if her birthday fell in the latter half of the calendar. Her father Gustavus A., age 50, is a dry goods merchant who was born in Vermont. The wife Margaret, age 35, was born in Kentucky. In 1870, when Lena was just 3 years old, her family had already made the journey to Iowa and were living in Greene Co. Her name on the census that year is recorded as Sena Cadly.

I find no marriage record for Lena F. Cady in this part of Iowa either. However, her name, age, and birthplace connect her to the Lena F. Ross buried in Manson in 1884.

In 1890, Chauncey Ross married Daisie Malissa Rumnel in Taylor Co., Iowa, which is far south of Manson and on the Missouri border. They made it all the way to California, where Chauncey died in 1945 at the age of 85. Daisie outlived him by about 8 years and died at age 80. They appear in several online family trees, as the parents of Jay and Dolly.

The name Lena F. Cady appears in a handful of places on the all-knowing Internet as a child of Gustavus and Margaret. She existed one year—in 1880—because of her short lifespan but also because of the misspelling of her name on the 1870 census. Furthermore, Margaret probably isn’t Lena’s mother; Lena was born after Gustavus’s first wife died in Vermont and before he could have encountered Margaret in the Midwest.

The name Lena F. Ross appears in two places, solely because of her death. It appears more often as the incorrect version, Lena E. In even the most well researched family trees for Chauncey O. Ross, no wife named Lena is included. Perhaps with no marriage record (and no access to the cemetery records once accessible in my basement), Chauncey’s descendants would have no idea to look for another wife. It’s an extremely common genealogical slight: this person is excluded from family history because this person had no living descendants. (Unless the person was famous or infamous, “died without issue” is generally the most information that exists about them, if any at all.)

Lena F. Cady and Lena F. Ross are not connected anywhere as the same person. I believe they are. I think the connection was never made because no one ever really looked for either Lena.

Lena Ross was a daughter, she was a wife, and she was likely—based on the circumstantial evidence—intending to become a mother. She was also Lena, and I think it’s a shame if she is never acknowledged in at least one place, in the whole of human knowledge, as a full person.

I’ve invested thousands of hours and thousands of dollars in a body of work about my family’s history. Most of them will have no interest in it, but it will exist for those who do. I occasionally wonder, having had no children, how long it will be before history forgets about me. In the event anyone from the future searches for me or the results of my research, perhaps they will now find Lena too.

Photo: Part of Lena's death record

P.S. If you are familiar with the Cady family, there’s an element that I excluded. I believe it does not pertain to Lena. You can ask me about it if you already know what it is. HKB


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