Ellen Belle (Loy) Saunders

Having access to historical newspapers, when I come across interesting Loy articles, even though not of my Martin Loy (to America 1741) branch, many times I’ve saved them anyway. When I later come back across these “non-Martin” articles (which might be even a year later), though I might have a general idea as to which Loy branch this belongs, time permitting I might do a little research to see exactly where that person fits. Now that my Loy website is “new and improved,” I’m thinking this blog would be the perfect place to start a special series on the Loy historical newspaper articles I’ve come across, encompassing all the branches. And when I say “Loy,” that includes descendants of the women that married out of the name, and Loys that lost or gained the surname through adoption.

For the first in this series, I decided to focus on a news article regarding a descendant of Matthias Loy (to America 1733), Ellen Belle (Loy) Saunders; “Ellen” being short for “Elenora.” The daughter of Michael J. and Mary (Shuman) Loy, Ellen’s paternal grandfather was George Loy. George’s father Michael was son of Matthias (to America 1733). According to the 1900 census, Ellen was born in December 1842 in Pennsylvania  As her family had been well-settled in Perry County for generations, where she appears in 1850 and 1860 census, she most likely was born there. According to her obituary in the 30 November 1924 Philadelphia Inquirer, she died 27 November 1924 in Philadelphia at age 81 years and 11 months. When Ellen would have been 21 years old, she married Dr. Frederick Ward Saunders (1829—20 January 1897 in Philadelphia). [Census for 1870 and 1880 show his birth as Rhode Island, but his death certificate has his birthplace as Worcester, Worcester Co., Massachusetts.] They married on 23 June 1864 in York, York County, Pennsylvania.

However, immediately after their marriage ceremony, before they could collect their marriage certificate, the town was raided by Southern Rebels. The bride and groom fled for safety. (Remember, this was 11 months before the end of the the Civil War.)  As far as their marriage record went, the end result was a genealogist’s worst nightmare. 😥 Among the places in York that the raiders ransacked was the church in which Frederick and Ellen were married. All the marriage records for that church were destroyed. If this weren’t enough, Frederick and Ellen’s home was one of those also pillaged by the rebels.

This photo of Frederick Ward Saunders is embedded from https://familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/1590810
So, this left the couple with no proof of their marriage. At the time, they didn’t consider this a big deal. After all, family and friends would have known they were married and may have even attended the wedding. By the 1870 census, they had left Pennsylvania for Franklin Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey, where their son Robert Roger Saunders was born 15 July 1876. The family is in the 1880 Franklin Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey census, too. However, Frederick’s middle name caused some confusion to the census taker. The enumerator heard “Ward” and he heard “Saunders.” So, he wrote the family’s surname as “Ward” and Frederick’s name as “S. Frederick.” When the enumerator came, on 14 June 1880, Frederick was 51, Ellen was 37, and Robert was 4. According to the 1900 census, when she was widowed and living with son Robert, the census recorded that Ellen only had one child born to her, and that child was still living.

By 1888, they were very well off financially and due to size of their estate, realized it was best if they remarried, in order to have documentation of their marriage. According to his obituary, Frederick served as “apothecary” (druggist, or pharmacist) for the U.S. Navy before 1861 and then served as assistant surgeon in U.S. Army during the War. I would think that applying for Frederick’s military pension, where affidavits and, if married, proof of marriage are required, must have got them thinking. Not only to ensure inheritance for their 10 year old son Robert, but when the time came for Ellen to apply for widow’s pension it, too, would be in jeopardy without proof of marriage. (After Frederick’s death, Ellen received widow’s pension for his service in the U.S. Navy.)

So, in Philadelphia, on 6 September 1888, after already being married 24 years, Frederick and Ellen remarried at the M. E. parsonage at 1013 North Fourth Street in Philadelphia. Rev. F. Asbury Gilbert conducted the ceremony. Fortunately for them, the church and parsonage did not get ransacked this time! 😛 Their 1888 marriage is listed in Ancestry.com’s (paid-subscription) “Philadelphia Marriages 1852-1868” and the Saunders’ 1888 marriage year alone is given the Philadelphia marriage index at FamilySearch.org.

Not only did this remarkable story make news in the local Philadelphia paper, but throughout the week the story was reprinted in other papers around the U.S.  The city papers I found at Newspapers.com that covered this were: the 7 September 1888 Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) pg. 3,  the 8 September 1888 York Daily (York, Pennsylvania) pg. 1, the 7 September 1888 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) pg. 8, the 9 September 1888 Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa) pg. 4, and the 8 September 1888 The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) pg. 1.   The York Daily mentions their story was taken from the New York Herald.

In what versions I read, there are interesting discrepancies. As they remarried in Philadelphia, that city paper should give the most reliable account and best way to determine their second marriage date. In their 7 September article, the Philadelphia Inquirer says they married “yesterday.” All papers give “today” or “yesterday” instead of giving exact date. The difficulty arises when newspapers that reran the article in later days continued using these words without giving a good reference to the date. Another problem was the editors’ elaboration in some places and in other places actual errors, making the account somewhat murky.

The Courier-Journal account gives the dates of the couple’s first and second marriages, but says they had been married “thirty-four” years, instead of twenty-four. The earliest account I found, from the 7 September 1888 Philadelphia Inquirer, states that the raiders took off with Dr. Saunders’ “marriage lines.” ( I did a lookup and found that during the 19th century, this is what marriage certificates were called. The majority of papers in that era that mentioned “marriage lines” also put the phrase in quotes. The term is still being used in Great Britain, in place of phrase marriage certificate.) At least one of these stories (from St. Louis Post-Dispatch) says their information was by telegraph.  Possibly unfamiliar with that term, either the telegraph operator or the other news editors changed “marriage lines” to read “marriage license” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) or “marriage licenses” (Quad City Times and Louisville’s The Courier-Journal) in quotes. Whether singular or plural, “marriage licenses” would not make sense to the story.

Unlike the Philadelphia Inquirer account, the other papers I came across related that after so many years “as their children grew up and their property increased” Frederick and Ellen began thinking about how not having proof of marriage would affect the children’s inheritance. Apparently the other news editors didn’t know their only child was ten years old. Perhaps, when writing their versions of this story, the editors interpreted the word “family” to mean multiple children.

In all, this post reminds us as genealogists how helpful historical newspapers are as a genealogical resource, whether or not the articles are 100% accurate verbatim. Especially in the case of destroyed marriage records. If only other couples in similar situations had left a literal paper trail as this after loss of a vital record, it would make genealogical research so much easier!

p.s. While viewing Ellen’s memorial at Find a Grave, I notice besides no birth date or place, the “death date” (actually only a burial date) is off by ten years, no maiden name listed nor link to parents, and no link to Frederick’s memorial, as a spouse. My next project will be contacting the person maintaining the memorial and give the needed updates.

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