John Marion RENFRO was my paternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather. He was born about 1846 in either Madison County or Rock Island County, Illinois, to Absalom RENFRO and Elizabeth (CORMACK) RENFRO. The surname RENFRO is of Scottish origin (possibly of the location Renfrewshire), and CORMACK (McCORMACK, MacCORMACK) is of Scotch-Irish origin.
Absalom RENFRO has often been confused with Absalom Foley RENFRO who was five years younger and spent his life in Missouri. John Marion RENFRO’s father Absalom RENFRO was born in Kentucky and spent his adult life in Illinois. For the most part, Absalom RENFRO has been referred to as simply Absalom RENFRO in records. However, I have found marriage records for two of his children where he is named as Abraham RENFRO, and one where he is named as Andrew RENFRO. This could simply be a mistake on the part of his children, as he died when several of them were quite young, or it could be additional given names. The marriage record for their youngest, James F. RENFRO, states his parents as Andrew RENFRO and Elizabeth McCORMACK. I refer to him as Absalom in my records, with Abraham and Andrew as alternate names. It does not surprise me that since their father died when they were so young, some of his children were confused on his first name.
Elizabeth CORMACK or McCORMACK or MacCORMACK (I will use CORMACK for the remainder of this article) was, according to her obituary, born on 22 May 1809, in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, and was (according to the obituary) the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David CORMACK. She and Absalom RENFRO married on 11 January 1830 in Macoupin County, Illinois, when she was 20 and he was 19. Between 1845 and 1850, the RENFROs moved north from the Edwardsville, Illinois, area “by steamer” to Rock Island, Illinois. I presume that moving “by steamer” meant they traveled along the Mississippi River on a passenger steamboat.
In total, Absalom and Elizabeth appear to have had thirteen children. Three of them did not live to adulthood, including one daughter who died at age 17 after she was married for 8 months. Tragically, Mrs. Elizabeth RENFRO was left a widow with nine or ten children when on 15 February 1855, Absalom died. Seven or eight of those children were unmarried and under the age of 18, and four or five were under the age of 10, including John Marion who was 9. Elizabeth appears to have “farmed out” some of them, understandably. In the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, at age 14, John Marion was living with his sister Jane Almyra (RENFRO) DAVIS (or Almyra Jane) and her family in Keithsburg, Mercer County, Illinois. It appears that Elizabeth RENFRO never remarried.
On 29 March 1864, a John M. RENFRO and a George E. RENFRO enlisted in the Army as Privates in Rock Island County, Illinois. John Marion had a brother named George E. RENFRO. John would have been 18, and George 15. I suspect these were John Marion and his brother George who enlisted. It is not impossible that George would have lied about his age. Assuming this was them, then John Marion served in Company A of the 9th Illinois Cavalry of the Union Army, and mustered out on 31 October 1865 in Selma, Dallas County, Alabama. A George E. RENFRO was discharged at the same time.
John got married after the war as many as six times. And, yes, some of these marriages overlapped.
Wife 1: Mary Lavinia HOUSEMAN
On 20 February 1867, we have what appears to be the first marriage of John M. RENFRO. In Rock Island County, Illinois, a John M. RENFRO married a Mary HOUSEMAN. At this time, I do not have a copy of the original record to see if it has parents listed, but I have pieced together information about Mary which has enabled me to confirm that the John M. RENFRO she married is the son of Absalom and Elizabeth (CORMACK) RENFRO, as follows.
In the 10 April 1890, issue of the Cheyenne [Wyoming] Weekly Sun is an announcement of the 45th anniversary of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Henry HOUSEMAN who celebrated at their residence in Rock Island, Illinois. In this announcement, their surviving children are listed, including Mrs. Mary RENFRO, who is a resident of Cheyenne (as are several others).
In the Rock Island, Illinois, 1860 U.S. Federal Census is the household of Henry HOUSEMAN, with an adult woman Mary Ellen HOUSEMAN, and six children, including a Mary Lavinia HOUSEMAN, age 14 (born about 1846). In the 1870 Census, Henry HOUSEMAN was in Cheyenne, Wyoming, apparently without his family. His occupation is given as “Hardware Merch Ret.” In 1880, his wife Mary Ellen, and four of the children are in Cheyenne living with him. His occupation is given as “Oil Merchant.”
Then, as we’ve already seen, in 1890, the HOUSEMAN couple is back in Rock Island.
Residing in a household in the 1870 Census in Rock Island, Illinois, are John RENFREW, age 23, Mary RENFREW, age 24, Milo RENFREW, age 2, and Eddie RENFREW, age 7/12. I presume that the two children Milo and Eddie are the sons of John and Mary. John RENFREW’s occupation is “Painter.”
But by 1880, that same census year that her parents were in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Mary and Milo were living in brother-in-law and sister W.H. and Hattie (HOUSEMAN) HIBBARD’s house also in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Mrs. Hattie HIBBARD is listed as one of Mr. and Mrs. Henry HOUSEMAN’s children in the anniversary article, and Hattie is also one of the HOUSEMAN’s children in the earlier census records. In this 1880 census record, Mary’s status is married. Eddie is not listed, and I have not been able to find him. I presume he died as a child.
I cannot find an 1880 census record for John Marion RENFRO, or for anyone who could be him.
On 20 October 1885, a notice of complaint for divorce was posted in the Cheyenne Daily Sun.
There was a second notice in the same newspaper on 19 December 1885, and on 3 February 1886, the newspaper reported that the default was set aside and complaint for divorce was amended. Without original records, which I do not yet have, I do not know whether the default was set aside because John answered the complaint or for another reason, but on 27 May 1886, in the Democratic Leader [Cheyenne, Wyoming], an announcement was made that the divorce was granted to Mary.
Over nine years later, on 13 December 1895, John M. RENFRO was admitted to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Leavenworth, Kansas. This is very helpful information, because it gives his rank, company, regiment, enlistment date and location, and discharge date and location. This information matches up with his original Civil War enlistment records of the John M. RENFRO from Rock Island. We also get his occupation as a Paper Hanger (consistent with census records), his marital status as married (what?), and his wife as Mary L. RENFRO, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Did she marry him again?Wife 2: Mary A COTTER, My 2nd Great-Grandmother
It is on the 1 June 1873, marriage record in Manhattan, New York, where we find John’s middle name. This is important, because his parents are also given here. This is actually where my research began, so subsequent findings (including all of those mentioned above in this article) built on this marriage record. My dad’s sister, Aunt Dot (now deceased) had told me that their names were John RENFRO and Mary COTTER.
I do not yet know why he he ended up in Manhattan at this time.
Here is a screenshot of the Family Search index record of this marriage.
“Meriain” is either a misspelling or transcription error. I’d have to look at the original record to determine which, and there are a few pieces of mail that I have misplaced or I haven’t ordered it yet in the past few chaotic months.
Nonetheless, when I saw the middle name on the marriage index record, it made sense as to why my great-grandmother was named Marion.
Pay special attention to the marriage date: 1 June 1873. But John was still married to Mary Lavinia HOUSEMAN at this time.
In the 1880, 1900, and 1910 U.S. Federal Censuses, Mary (COTTER) RENFRO’s marital status is listed as “Widowed.” Mary was the mother of Marion (RENFRO) ANTON, and grandmother of Adele Marie (ANTON) TRAUTMAN, who was my grandmother.
Wife 3: Mrs. Fernanda (-?-) BUDDEI
This is one of those marriage licenses that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Cook County, Illinois, didn’t start adding parents to marriage licenses until after 1916. On 9 May 1885, John M. RENFRO married Mrs. Fernanda BUDDEI. She had been married before. To whom? What was her maiden name? I do believe this was my John M. RENFRO, as I’ll indicate below.
George E. RENFRO was the brother closest in age to John. He had enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 15 with John. In adulthood, George was a traveling salesman (also, “commercial traveler”, “traveling man”). During his adult life, he resided in both Chicago, Illinois, and Davenport, Scott County, Iowa. I made the connection of the locations of George E. RENFRO based on his Scott County, Iowa, marriage record to Marie Louise (MEIER) KELLY which lists his parents as Absalom RENFRO and Elizabeth CORMACK, and his occupation as Traveling Salesman, which carries from 1880 through at least 1905 in both locations, including on that marriage record in Iowa.
I mention this because I questioned why John would have been in Chicago in 1885, and whether or not this was my 2nd great grandfather John Marion RENFRO. I suspect that John and George lived their lives in tandem once again, with perhaps John going to Chicago and George following. In 1892, John was still living in Chicago with the occupation of “Paper Hanger” when he married his next wife, Ellen BROWN in Michigan. George E. RENFRO is in the 1885 Chicago city directory, but I cannot find a John RENFRO or John M. RENFRO in the same city directory. The next earliest one available on Ancestry is 1882. I found no RENFROs in this Chicago directory.
By 1900, George was living in Davenport, Iowa, and John was in Kansas.
Wife 4: Ellen BROWN
John M. RENFRO and Ellen BROWN married in Niles, Berrien County, Michigan, on 5 August 1892, even though both lived in Englewood, Cook County, Illinois. On this certificate, John’s parents were given as Abraham RENFRO and Elizabeth CORMAQ. Both the bride and groom stated that they had each previously been married one time. I think John may have lied.
On 15 October 1891, ten months before that marriage, he had filed for an Invalid Pension for his service during the Civil War.
It is 91 miles from Englewood, Illinois, to Niles, Michigan. There must be a story as to why they went there.
I have yet to find any evidence that John and Ellen were together for very long. I actually have seen evidence to the contrary. In 1895, three years after he married Ellen BROWN, at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas, he claimed his residence was Wheatland, Platte County, Wyoming, as shown in the hospital record, above. He was discharged from the hospital on 30 June 1896, and it appears he stayed in Kansas for the rest of his life, primarily in Douglass, Butler County.
Possible Wife 5: Lavina P. McHENRY
I found this little gem at Genealogy Bank, Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, Wednesday, August 19, 1896, Volume 6, Issue 2370, Page 1, Col 1, GenealogyBank.com.
Judge Chaffee yesterday married John M. Renfro and Lavina P. McHenry, both of Lebo and V. J. Soderstrom, of Olivet, and Jennie N. Jenkins, of Osage City.
This wedding occurred less than two months after John was discharged from the hospital. If this is my ancestor (yes, I have the marriage record, and no, the parents aren’t listed), he had moved southwest about 100 miles to Lebo, Coffey County, Kansas.
Roughly five years later, he was another 100 miles southwest, in Douglass, Butler County, Kansas, marrying his final wife.
Wife 5/6: Eva FOLENSBEE
Born 8 January 1870, and twenty-four years younger than John, widow Eva (FOLENSBEE) MASON was the final wife of John Marion RENFRO. John and Eva had four sons: George E. RENFRO, Lawrence M. RENFRO, Wesley Charles RENFRO, and Wilber Eugene RENFRO.
I obtained Eva’s surname from an obituary transcribed on Find-A-Grave. The newspaper information and obituary source are not given.
Death came Saturday [23 May 1942] in Wichita to Mrs. Eva Renfro, who until some weeks ago, was a resident of Douglass. She was taken ill recently and went to the home of a son in Wichita. She was 72 years, four months, and 15 days of age.
Eva Folensbee, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Folensbee, was born in Rich Springs, New York , Jan. 8, 1870.
In 1889 she was married to Will Mason in Olean N.Y. To this union were born three daughters, two of whom died in infancy, and the third, Jennie, at the age of eight years. The union was broken by his death.
Eva Mason came to Douglass in the latter part of 1896. In 1901 she married to John M. Renfro, and to this union were born four sons, George E., of Benedict; Lawrence M., Wesley C. and Wilbur E., all of Wichita. She was preceded in death by her husband, a veteran of the Civil War.
She is survived by the four sons, one brother, Charles Folensbee, of Los Angeles, Calif.; and four grandchildren.
She was a member of the Methodist Church and reared her family of boys in the church. In her declining years she would sit on her porch and listen to the singing at church.
The body was brought to Douglass on Monday and laid to rest in the Douglass Cemetery.
The family has the sympathy of all in its sorrow at the loss of the dear mother.
Services were held at the Methodist Church, conducted by Rev. George Cavit.
According to this obituary transcript, John and Eva were married in 1901. Most likely, this marriage would have taken place in Douglass, Butler County, Kansas.
Eva was the wife of John Marion RENFRO at his death. As his widow, she received his Civil War pension.
We can know for a fact that John Marion RENFRO married my 2nd great grandmother Mary COTTER in 1873 while he was still married to his first wife. His first wife did eventually divorce him, but not until ten years after my great grandmother Marion RENFRO was born. I suspect there was no divorce between John and Mary (COTTER) RENFRO, as she was Irish Catholic, she gave her marital status as widowed on census records, and she never remarried.
John’s marriage to Fernanda BUDDEI (which I presume is him based on the evidence and conclusions I’ve outlined above) occurred on 9 May 1885. The divorce that Mary Lavinia (HOUSEMAN) RENFRO filed against John was not final until May 1886. That is three marriages at the same time.
I cannot say what happened to Fernanda, whether she died, they divorced, or neither of these, but by 1892, John married Ellen BROWN. By then, he actually was divorced from his first wife, still married to his second, possibly still married to his third, and marrying a fourth. If he married Lavina McHENRY, there’s five. And then there’s Eva.
I do believe that at least two of those marriages did not legally end.
Did John Marion RENFRO Live in Wyoming?
John lived in both Cheyenne and Wheatland, or at least he had businesses there, as evidenced by these newspaper ads.
In 1881 and 1882, he was in Cheyenne.
In 1895, shortly before he was in the Veterans’ Hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, he was in Wheatland.
Incidentally, I have evidence that when he lived in Wheatland, his oldest, Milo RENFRO, lived there as well.
I don’t think there is a conclusion. John was born. John’s father died when he was a little boy. He went to the Army and probably saw all sorts of horrendous things when he was only 18. He could have been looking after his little brother the whole time. He came home, took a breather, got married, had a couple of kids, had marital troubles, found another wife, had a kid out east, found another wife or three, settled down, had four sons, and died.
This is what gets me.
All of this information (and I know I have not exhausted all sources), yet I know not one thing about what he was really like. That is the carrot and stick essence of genealogy, and it will keep me ever entwined until it finishes me, because I know I will never finish it.
Elizabeth Renfro Obituary, Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Ill.), February 06, 1901, Page 7 Image 7. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92053934/1901-02-06/ed-1/seq-7/) Accessed 19 April 2014.
Cheyenne Daily Sun no. 194 October 20, 1885, page 3. Indexed and imaged by The Wyoming Newspaper Project (http://www.wyonewspapers.org/), accessed 11 March 2014.
Cheyenne Weekly Sun April 10, 1890, page 6. Indexed and imaged by The Wyoming Newspaper Project (http://www.wyonewspapers.org/), accessed 11 March 2014.
Cheyenne Daily Sun no. 194 October 20, 1885, page 3. Indexed and imaged by The Wyoming Newspaper Project (http://www.wyonewspapers.org/), accessed 11 March 2014.
Democratic Leader May 27, 1886, page 3. Indexed and imaged by The Wyoming Newspaper Project (http://www.wyonewspapers.org/), accessed 11 March 2014.
Ancestry.com. U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Child Soldiers in the Civil War by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks post dated 16 December 2011 on Civil War Saga blog, (http://civilwarsaga.com/child-soldiers-in-the-civil-war/), accessed 07 December 2014.
“New York, Marriages, 1686-1980,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6WM-YR7 : accessed 22 Feb 2013), John Meriain Renfro and Mary Cotter, 01 Jun 1873; citing reference , FHL microfilm 1561968.
Emporia Gazette (Emporia, KS), Wednesday, August 19, 1896, Volume 6, Issue 2370, Page 1, Col 1, GenealogyBank.com.
Ancestry.com. Kansas, Grand Army of the Republic Post Reports, 1880-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Eva Renfro Memorial Page, Find-A-Grave, (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=56898311), accessed 11 March 2014.