My Great Grandpa Was a Love Rat, and Great Grandma Was a Loose Woman

I suppose you might qualify that statement by saying Great Grandpa Fred Sholley and his wife, Sarah Melinda, redeemed themselves later in life. After all, they were married for forty years and raised nine children together.

To be fair, Fred’s waywardness may have been due to having lost his father at age nine.  And Sarah Melinda was an only child (quite unusual at that time, at least compared to the rest of her family), so she was probably a little spoilt.

I say you might qualify the statement, but I won’t. After finding out what I’ve recently learned, I’d have not let either near my Darling Daughter.

After piecing together their story, I find it difficult to accept their actions.

Read on, and perhaps you will understand.

From previous research, I knew the basics about “Fred” (Either Simon Frederick or Frederick Simon, depending on the record) Sholley and his wife Sarah Melinda Kreighbaum. This included the crucial BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death) details for both, and for their nine children.

Somehow I missed the fact their first child, Dora Estelle, was born more than two years before they married. In my defense, I can only say birth dates and years can vary by document, so until I find the actual birth record, I’m never confident I have it correct.

Dora’s record had eluded me (you’ll soon see why), so I figured she was, ahem, “premature,” as first children often are.

Pregnancy at the altar was, if not common, certainly not unheard of, and as I said, Great Grandpa and Grandma went on to have eight more children, so no big deal, right?

It was a legal notice in the archives of Newspapers.com (currently available for free with my library card) that put a different spin on things.

I love using newspaper archives because you never know what you’ll learn (about “monster porkers” or bushels of barley, for example). Or information about Fred’s brother Oliver’s probate, which pinpointed his date of death after I’d been unable to locate a death certificate.

But stumbling across this, from the 18 March 1890 issue of “The Akron Beacon Journal,” was quite a shocker.

Martha Sholley Seeking Separation
Martha J. Sholley vs. Frederick S. Sholley.
Plaintiff says they were married Jan. 11, 1887, and one child has been born of said marriage. She charges defendent with gross neglect of duty toward her and her child, that he has been guilty of adultery at various times, the exact date the plaintiff is unable to specify, with one Malinda Kreighbaum.Wherefore she prays that she may be divorced, that she may be restored to her maiden name of Martha J.Winkelman, that she be granted the custody of the child, and reasonable alimony. Kohler and Musser for the plaintiff.

Well! I nearly fell off the sofa. Not only had Great Grandpa Sholley been married before, he had a child I previously knew nothing about, and was running around with Great Grandma before his first wife divorced him.

A few days later, I finally had time to dig into the full story, which doesn’t paint Fred and Melinda in a very pretty light.

Here’s a quick overview:
Fred (23) married Martha Jane “Jennie” Winkelman (16) on 11 January 1887. This age difference would perhaps be shocking today, but back then, not so much, although her parents did have to sign for her, lying to say she was 17.

Five months later, Jennie gives birth to Anna May Sholley, making it quite possible Fred took up with Jennie when she was just 15.

Do the math: Jennie was born 12 August 1870. If you calculate 38-42 weeks for an average pregnancy, she was pregnant by sometime in September 1886. Either she was either incredibly fertile/unlucky, or they’d been at it for a while.

I swear I don’t do this type of calculation for every birth in my family tree. If I had, I would have notice Dora Estelle was two years “early.”

This case, however, warranted some extra scrutiny.

And although I didn’t find the birth certificate for either Dora or Anna, I did find the handwritten register from 1887 and 1888.

It listed Anna’s birth on 7 May 1887, with “Fredk Sholly” and “Jennie” Winkelman as her parents. However, there is another listing for “Sholly, child of Frederick” written in the same hand for 1 March 1888, parents listed as “Fredk” Sholly and Melinda Kreighbaum, with the notation “Illegitimate.” That child was Dora Estelle, born when Fred was 24, and Melinda was 16.

Below are the two pages of the register, with small dots beside the relevant records.

I find myself wondering what the registration clerk thought as s/he wrote these records.

And what were Sarah Melinda’s parents (John H. Kreighbaum and Martha  Keplar Kreighbaum) thinking to let her fool with a married man?

Even more shocking (to me, at least) was the fact the relationship continued, culminating in a hasty marriage on 17 May 1890, and the birth of their second child just two months later.

Jennie also remarried, in 1891 (and I say “Good for her!”).

The next record for Anna has her in Jennie’s parents’ Green Township household in 1900, right next door to John H. and Martha Keplar (Melinda’s parents).

This seemingly ironic quirk of fate prompted me to look at earlier censuses, where I discovered Melinda and Jennie grew up next door to each other, making Fred and Melinda’s actions seem even more cruel.

How mortifying it must have been for Martha Jane “Jennie” Winkelman Sholley to have her face rubbed in her husband’s infidelity by a girl she knew as a child!

KreighbaumWinkelman1880

1880 census showing Kreighbaum and Winkelman households including  Martha “Jennie” Winkelman and Sarah Melinda Kreighbaum

Anna married in 1906, and she and her husband (Charles E. Strong) moved to California sometime in the 20s. She died of cancer at age 57 in 1944.

Sarah Melinda was also 57 when she died in 1930, with Fred following nine years later at age 75.

Jennie followed Anna to California and outlived them all, dying there in 1958 at age 87.

Perhaps it’s wrong to judge my ancestors so harshly. There was no such thing as a “no fault” dissolution of marriage back then: Someone always had to be found “at fault.”

But, Frederick’s actions seem irresponsible and greedy, as well as unkind, while Sarah Melinda seems unnecessarily cruel to take up with her neighbor’s husband, even if she and Jennie weren’t friends.

And yet, I’m glad I found this information because it rounds out my understanding of my grandmother. Perhaps her eagerness to get her children out of the house and married off quite young had something to do with her parents.

I must say I’d have learned the opposite lesson if this were my parent’s history, and encouraged my own children to take their time settling down in the hope of making better choices.

It’s possible Grandma never even knew her half-sister or about the tumultuous early years of her parents’ relationship.

I doubt anyone is still alive who can tell us.

Timeline
17 December 1863 – (Simon) Frederick Sholl(e)y born
12 August 1870 – Martha Jane “Jennie” Winkelman born
1880 census – Jennie and Sarah Melinda live next door to each other
13 March 1872 – Sarah Melinda Kreighbaum born
11 January 1887 – Simon Frederick (23) and Martha Jane (16) marry — signed for by parents, she’s underage, says 17, but she’s only 16
7 May 1887 – Anna May Sholly born (Martha Jane still only 16 — 5 month baby, so MJ pregnant at marriage. She is listed as #289 in the handwritten birth register. Parents listed as Fredk Sholly and Jennie Winkelman.
1 March 1888 – In same birth register, four lines above Anna May at #285 is listed “Sholly, Child of Fredk.” Parents listed as Fredk Sholly and Melinda Kreighbaum with the notation “Illegitimate.” Sarah Melinda is 16. Simon Frederick is 24. This is Dora Estelle.
18 March 1890 – Article in “The Akron Beacon Journal”
Martha Sholley Seeking Separation
Martha J. Sholley vs. Frederick S. Sholley.
Plaintiff says they were married Jan. 11, 1887, and one child has been born of said marriage. She charges defendent with gross neglect of duty toward her and her child, that he has been guilty of adultery at various times, the exact date the plaintiff is unable to specify, with one Malinda Kreighbaum.Wherefore she prays that she may be divorced, that she may be restored to her maiden name of Martha J.Winkelman, that she be granted the custody of the child, and reasonable alimony. Kohler and Musser for the plaintiff.

17 May 1890 – (Simon) Frederick and Sarah Melinda wed. He’s 26. She’s 18, and at least 7 mos pregnant with their second child. They go on to have seven more children.
16 July 1890 – John Oliver Sholley born
2 March 1891 – Martha Jane “Jennie” Winkelman remarries.
3 October 1906 – Anna May marries Charles E. Strong in Summit County, Ohio. Sometime between 1920 and 1930, they eventually move to California. Martha Jane “Jennie” follows by 1940.
29 January 1930 – Sarah Melinda dies at age 57.
24 March 1939 – (Simon) Frederick dies, aged 75.
2 September 1944 – Anna May dies of cancer at age 57.
21 March 1958 – Martha Jane “Jennie” dies, aged 87.

One thought on “My Great Grandpa Was a Love Rat, and Great Grandma Was a Loose Woman

  1. Pingback: Sixty Things | The Byrd and the Bees

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s