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January 17, 2014

52 Ancestors: Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Vollick, the Blacksheep of the Family

Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for geneabloggers called Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Amy challenges genealogists to write about one ancestor once a week. 

52 Ancestors: Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Vollick, the Blacksheep of the Family
The only photo I have of Lizzie
on the right
My great grandmother Mary Elizabeth Vollick had what I consider a rather difficult life. I knew she married Stephen Peer against her parents' wishes and I knew they disowned her. But when I connected with the grandchildren of her siblings several years ago, I learned even more. 

Lizzie, as she was called by her siblings, was known as the black sheep of the family. According to her sisters she was a "wild thing". In 1879 at the age of 16 she eloped with Stephen Peer who was 10 years her senior. Her parents were not happy, both because of her age but also because the Peer family were considered rather unsavory. Nothing criminal, but they were a family of daredevils and considered irresponsible. For example, Stephen's brother was the first ever base jumper and his cousin walked Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

The entire family lost touch with Lizzie and she had no contact with her parents or siblings again.

Lizzie's family all lived in the Elmvale Ontario area but she and Stephen began moving from town to town, finally settling in Guelph in 1890. By then they had 6 young children and not much money. My grandmother Olive was the oldest. 3 more children were born, the last in August 1896. One year later Stephen, age 44, died of typhoid fever and 34 year old Lizzie was left a widow with no money and 9 children aged 1 year to 17 years. 

The City of Guelph established a fund to collect money for the impoverished widow and her family. Notices were put in the newspaper asking for donations. Because Lizzie was destitute, the Baptist Church arranged for burial of Stephen (to date I have not been able to find his burial location). In an ironic twist of fate, Stephen's death notice ran incorrectly under the name of his father. You'll understand the irony when you read about Lizzie's death registration later in this article

Oct. 28, 1897
        Levi [sic] Peer died at General Hospital on Wednesday afternoon from typhoid fever.  Leaves a wife and nine children in destitute circumstances.  City relief officer made arrangements for burial and attended to needs of family.  Trinity Baptist church also assisting.  (article from Guelph Herald.)

Somehow Lizzie managed to support the family but I know it was rough. My grandmother never spoke of those days and I always wondered if they ended up in the local poorhouse (now the Wellington County Museum just outside of Elora) 

52 Ancestors: Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Vollick, the Blacksheep of the Family
Lizzie's Tombstone in Woodlawn Cemetery Guelph
Lizzie's difficulties were not over. In May 1914 she died. She was just 51 years old. Her cause of death was starvation. All her children except Edgar, the youngest, had married and left home. It was left to Edgar to provide the information to the clerk for her death registration. In his grief and confusion he must have misunderstood the questions asked of him for he gave his own father and mother's names as the first names of Lizzie's parents. 

So her death record gives her correct maiden name of Vollick. But instead of her parents' names (Isaac and Lydia) it states "Stephen and Mary Vollick". And thus poor Lizzie is forever recorded with the wrong parents and even death was not kind to her. 

To add to the family tale of hardship, young Edgar enlisted in World War 1 less than a year later. He was only 17 at the time, an orphan. Sent to France he suffered as many did through the War years and in August 1918 he was killed. He was just 20 years old.

I am only glad that Lizzie did not live to see her youngest die.


@FlabbergastedMa said...

My 2rd great-grandfather, Joseph Wadel, has the incorrect name for his father on his death info. Of course his Dad died in 1852 and Joseph died in 1923 so none of his family had ever met his father.

Celia Lewis said...

What a very challenging life she had, Lorine!
As for the incorrect names, in grief and confusion, it's too easy to make errors, isn't it. We have a few of those as well.

linda lemons said...

my great grandfather is listed in birth records in nashville 1876 as being black. we think the error may have come from his black housemaid! Blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin, not a bit of negro heritage!