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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Mother-in-Law and Other Villains

George is wounded and indignant and not going to take it anymore. Below is a letter to his mother-in-law Philena Hodges.  At this point, Ella has run off with a man named John Chambers and is living with him in Pennsylvania and the differences are irreconcilable.


No. 1
Philena Hodges you may think strange that I should write to you it is of no motive thinking you a friend to me for I think you far from it and I don’t think you are a friend to Ella either you probley mistrust what I am about to doe and if you have got any respect for Ella you will confer a favor to Ella by giving me hur postoffice adres for if she ever expects to get a bill from me she will have to have an understanding with me before she can get one for I don’t want to take any unfare means with hur if she will come where I am I will tell hur what I will doe and what I am agoing to doe you may set you mind at rest in one respect and that is I am not trying to get hur to come back to live with me for she made one big mistake when she and you alowed that man John Chambers to come to you house to see hur and pas him of to your neigbours as Pain for it would have been better to gave his right name for all partys concerned you onley helped my side of the case the way you done and hurt Ella.

I wanted to talk with hur when she was up here I would have told hur what I would ave done in regard to hur geting a bill in pensylvania and that she could not get one with out my going in that state for if she had come and talked with me she would have felt better at the present time than she does now for I gues you all thought you had an easy victim to deal with but some times I know more than I will tell till the right time comes now if she wants a bill I will bee fare with hur if she will bee fare with me in geting a bill from hur and that was what I wanted to alk with hur for. 

That wa very cuning devise that she got up to ger me in Pensylvania but I don’t bight at aney such bait.  now if she want an understanding with me I will guarent not to have aney papers served on hur or cause aney to bee served on hur with in 2 weeks after we have our talk so if she wants to go back to Pa she can.

Now it makes no difference to me whether she talks with me or not I doe it for hur one good and for the respect for our children for it would be better for hur if we could come to some kind of agreement so that I could get a bill of Divorse from hur and she get one in Pa. for it would be better for hur than living the life she is now you can write tot hur and have hur write to me and let me know whether she want to talk it over or not or tell me hur postoffice adress and I will  write to hur but if I have a talk with hur it had got to bee this month for I am a going through with this no matter what the coast is but am willing to doe the fare thing but I have got the longest end of the roap and going to keep it don’t think for a minute that I am going to give it awayr for I am not.  I would have told her to Magregors but I thought what was every bodys busnes was nobodys busnes and would have told her if I could have seen hur alone. 

I will never talk with hur in Pensylvania til we have a better under standing for she has told me to meny falshoods to trust hur and I don’t know whether she would bee fare with me or not but I will never lie to hur nor will I put up aney job on hur what I doe I will let law take its corse and no jobery now if she dont want aney understanding with me it will no difference to me in my geting a bill from hur all the difference it makes it may cost me a little more and when I comment the suit with hur I will have no talk with hur it has got to bee before the suit is comenced or never for I would never try to help heur after it is now you doe as you are aminato and Ella to think of it and see what is the best way.


No good information is offered as to Ella's maternal instinct.  She abandoned her husband and her four boys.  She will not get them back.  What an incredibly horrible price to pay to get out of a marriage you were ill-suited to.  Does she mind?  Does she miss them?  It just seems selfish from this point of view 130 years later.  And the reason I say that about her is because George stays close with his boys and his letters don't suggest he was malicious.  I have these papers because he and his son Alvah remained close until the end.

While the emotional outpouring in George's letter suggests that divorce is a fait accomplis, something odd is found in the 1900 Census and in the obituary of their son Mark in 1899.  First of all, Mark's obit says he is survived by his parents Mr. and Mrs. George Burns.  More revealing is the census reports George as being married for 24 years--the length his marriage would have been at that time if he was still with Ella.  Ella is living in Jamestown with John Chambers.  She calls herself Ella Chambers and claims to be married for 9 years or since 1891.  It is definitely her because it says she is the mother of 4 children with 3 living.  So which is it?  Did they get divorced or not?  I don't think they did.  I think George did hold the long end of the "Roap" and I think he let her swing from it.  Ella declared herself married about 6 or 7 years after she deserted her family.  Well, wouldn't that make her common-law?  She certainly felt she could say it on the Census.  She and John had no children of their own.

Hold the presses.  It seems that Alvah going through his own divorce from Clara Ticknor in 1910 is living with his mother and step-father in Jamestown. So there was contact, perhaps that death of two siblings made Alvah connect with his mother again.  And, oddly enough, both George Burns and John Chambers claim to be widowed by 1920.  Talk about living in your own world.


Monday, March 12, 2012

For Better Not For Worse

Recap of the story thus far:

Alvah Burns was born in or around Marcellus, NY and moved west to Stockton, NY in his 30s or so in the mid-19th Century.

Alvah married Anna Mariah Link who was one of 10 Link children.  Anna was much younger than Alvah--bore him two children Lydia and George and then was widowed while they were still young.

Lydia was a great support to her mother and helped with all the chores.  George turned out to be troubled by alcohol so he was a bit sketchy in his early 20s disappearing for days on end.

Anna's youngest brother, Orlando, took his family and moved to Iowa in 1870.  It proved fatal to him and his wife so their children were spread out among relatives.  His youngest son Omer was adopted and raised by Anna.

In 1875, George married a young, local girl named Ella Hodges.  She grew up around George and probably he was her adolescent crush.  By 1880, George had to have a leg amputated after suffering knee problems for years.  Ella had already bore him two sons and was pregnant with their third.  Life carries on a few more years not obviously perturbed by much that we know about.  Ella has one last son for a total of 4 boys but then, like a pig through a hole in the fence, she sees her opening and makes a break for it. 

This second set of Burns' family letters are not consistently dated and therefore I likely don't have the chronology down correctly.  However, they begin about 4 or 5 years after the amputation. I think as we read them the angry ones come first when George is arguing that he deserves some answers and the boys need a moral mother.   As they proceed, George becomes resigned--basically "how do you want to handle this divorce?"  I think George is really devastated and I don't think he did Ella wrong.  I just think Ella was young when she married, had too many babies too quickly and then fell in love with another man.  She leaves George and her children because--well who knows, maybe because she never made a choice of her own before that day.  I think that makes for heartbreak on both sides. 

 Here begins the next set of letters relating to this family's life-altering events:

South Stockton
April 188?

Ella Burns what doe you want to doe.  I want you to tell me and tell me al and I will doe the same by you if you will talk confidential with me and let this end it for if we can come to some understanding it will bee better for you but if we can’t I shall let the law take its course with you and if we doe have a talk let it bee personal now you can’t blame me for what I have found out in regard to you for you tried to beat me and what I have done I have done and the square and had a perfect right to find you out and I know more than I have told but if worse comes to worse I shall show up every thing but as god as my witness I hate to doe it but I will not be lied up to you and you lieing the way you have been lieing but if you have made up your mind to live a good moral life hearafter let me know and it will bee better for you think where it will please you if I get a bill from you now if we talk this matter over let it bee personal you may say anything you want to and I won’t make any use of it if we come to a law suit if you will doe the same by me talk so both can understand each other and if we can come to any agreement you like your way and I will doe the same this is not for you to keep you will have to hand it back to me or bear.

Be kind if we are poor ye know how kindness smooths the roughest fortunes ye endure and how it sorrow soothes ye know you may receive relief yet sympathy not find then learn to sympathy with grief the poorest can be kind.  Be kind why should you not if faithful friends are few and if you seem to be forgot by thoes you once deemed true. Should you not sympathize with thoes to cold neglect consigned can ye not feel for others woes oh should you not be kind.  Be kind forget forgive the wrongs which ye received Oh strive in love with all to live this world ye soon must leave then cultivate a generous mind live peaceable with all mankind and thoes at death ye leave behind will bless your memory and be kind.

N.B.  his is for your own good and respect for our children not mine.

This next letter doesn't seem to go with the one above but it may because the one above obviously wasn't finished:

Ella i did not have room to write all i wanted to on that sheet you said you didn’t want me to show your letter to any one any letter you write to me no one shal see for i think our mater is our one and no bodys (elses?) write what you may and it will bee all rite you nead have no fear you doe rite.  Ella and may god rain blessings on your head for i love you dearer than life if you will do what is right i can’t write half what i want to but when i see you i can tell you lots if you will bee good to me i must close now for mark wants to write to you for i don’t want to get him to crying when he gets his mind made up to do any thing he wants to doe it rite of now write to me by return mail and may god bles you for it.  Geo Burns

belo is marks writing and i will sign his name for him


Mark Burns
Ella you have lifted a big load from my mind i did talk of coming down next monday but will not come til i hear from you.