Hunting down a Toll / Ledgerwood marriage
My grandfather was born on 1 July 1919. If he was carried to full term, that meant my great-grandmother, Louisa, must have fallen pregnant around September/October 1918. It seemed logical to me that whoever the father was, he would have been relatively close to her in age, and could not have been much younger; my great-grandmother was born in 1901, and therefore only 17 when she became pregnant. Even if my great-grandfather had been someone who lied about his age so he could serve in the military, he couldn’t have been much younger than 17. Therefore, ultimately I felt I was looking for a male child born somewhere between 1885 and 1901. That would mean his parents would likely be born in a time frame of 1845-1881. Which fit the children of both John and Charity Ledgerwood, and Thomas and Sarah Toll.
I could have cut my work in half at this point if I had just searched for a marriage between a Toll and a Ledgerwood. Instead, I took the longer route, trying to identify the movements of each of the offspring of both couples, and not always succeeding. I also got waylaid doing things this way, and got lost down spirals of family trees, getting invested in stories and pictures!
I hit the break I needed when I decided to search on FamilySearch rather than Ancestry. Although the relevant record I needed was on Ancestry, it didn’t jump out at me for a very good reason; the wrong name was included. Simply doing the surname search on FamilySearch showed me very clearly the result I needed:
Eliza M Ledgerwood was a name I knew from the offspring of John and Charity Ledgerwood. But who on earth was Robert? There was no Robert listed as a child of Thomas and Sarah Toll, and that name appeared nowhere on census records. Colour me confused. Who was he? I searched on FamilySearch again to see if any further records turned up for Eliza, and then realised what had happened. For some reason the wrong name was recorded in the marriage records; Eliza had actually married John Paul Toll, not a man called Robert at all! Now all I needed to do was find records for their offspring!
John Paul Toll
John Paul Toll was born to Thomas and Sarah on 2nd February 1850, in either Illinois or Indiana. On the 1850 census, the family is residing in Greenup, Cumberland County, Illinois. Four-month-old John is shown as being born in Illinois, and father Thomas is a farmer.
By 1860 they are living in Union Township, Iowa, Thomas Toll is clearly a successful farmer with a real estate value of $2,500 and a personal value of $550. His daughter Jemima is living next door with her husband Jesse Berry, who is indicated as a labourer, and presumably working on his father in law’s farm.
In 1870, the family are still on the farm in Iowa, and Thomas’s land value has grown to $3,000 and his personal value to $1,000. His son John is indicated as working on the railroad.
Eliza M Ledgerwood
Eliza M Ledgerwood was born on 9 June 1854 in Illinois. At the time of the 1860 census, Eliza is living with her parents in West Fork, Ringgold, Iowa. Her father John, like Thomas Toll, is a relatively successful farmer, with a real estate value of $1,000, and a personal value of $250. By 1870, the family are in Clinton Township (note, I’m not sure if this is actually the same place – please let me know if you have knowledge of Iowa!), John is still doing pretty well but not as well as Thomas; his real estate value is $800 and personal value is $300. At 16 years old, Eliza is attending school. Given the fact she is 16 years old and still in regular schooling indicates to me that the family is well off enough at that point that she is able to continue schooling and is not being asked to work to support the family.
At some point, likely between 1870 and 1876, John Paul Toll and Eliza Ledgerwood meet, and they marry on 2 March 1877 in Nodaway, Missouri.
Tracing the Toll children
It was here I had a very lucky break. Someone on Ancestry had shared a newspaper clipping of John Paul Toll’s obituary from his death in 1916, which led me to find that he and Eliza had had four children, so from here it was relatively easy for me to track down the births of all the children. In 1880, the census shows that the family were living in Clay Township, Atchison County, Missouri; John is a farmer, and their first child, a daughter Eva, is listed as being 10 months old. Through birth and census records on both Ancestry and FamilySearch I was able to confirm the births of their other children; two more daughters – Pauline, born September 1881, Hallie, born 21 Jan 1888, and son John Thomas born 16 April 1890.
Wait, what? Three girls, one boy. My dad had remembered that his grandfather had had two sisters who sent his dad care packages. What if there were three sisters? What if John Thomas Toll was my great-grandfather? At this point, my face looked something like this:
John Thomas was definitely the right age to be serving in the first world war. Someone on Ancestry had also uploaded a picture of him, and although he didn’t look identical to my grandfather, he definitely looked like he could be related. Great. All I needed to do now was try and find service papers for him, check passenger records to see whether he was on board any ships that docked at Liverpool, and failing that, see if I could find any records indicating his troop’s movements during the first world war.
First part, easy enough. I was able to quickly find his draft papers, which indicated he had served. I also found records for his military headstone which seemed to confirm his regiment. I was also able to find the records for that troop and its whereabouts. That is where everything ground to a halt. My oh-so-perfect scenario? Ruined. According to the papers I found, the troop not only never left the US, it never even left Washington state.
So now, my face looked more like this: How could this be? There were no other male children. DNA does not lie, but neither does geography. I knew that whoever my great-grandfather had been he had to have been physically present in the Liverpool area in late September / early October 1918, there was no way around it. I could see only two possible alternatives; that John Thomas Toll had actually been transferred to a different troop, or the troop information was incorrect, or that my great-grandfather was actually the child of one of John Thomas’s sisters.
The first scenario was a possibility, but I couldn’t uncover any records that indicated that to be the case, and there were no records of a John Thomas Toll in any British transport records that I was able to find. Given that I was finding ship manifests with US military servicemen on board, it seemed reasonable to assume that he should have been listed.
The second scenario was possible but still left me with a seemingly insurmountable brick wall. The oldest daughter, Eva, was well documented to have married and had children, but I had no DNA links to any of those children, and her known offspring didn’t make sense; there was only one son living by 1918 and he appeared to be home in Oregon at the right time. The two younger Toll daughters were difficult to track down. Their father’s obituary appeared to indicate that one was married by the time of his death, but the other single. I did eventually trace marriages for both of the sisters, but never uncovered any offspring, and certainly none who would have been born in time to be serving in the first world war. My hunch was that one of them must have had a baby incredibly young, and that baby was given up for adoption, and that baby was my great-grandfather. If that was the case, I didn’t think I would ever find the answer. The only hope I had was waiting for more, and hopefully, closer DNA matches to appear in my results.
And this is where the search remained for several months; by now it was around April or May of 2017. I spent my time trying to flesh out the tree a bit more, and one of the great discoveries I had was finding a bunch of yearbook pictures for the children of John Thomas Toll. It actually caused me more confusion; his daughters looked a lot like I did at the same age, and the picture of his son, also called Jack, looked so much like my grandfather I couldn’t believe they weren’t very close relatives. In fact, to me, the two Jacks looked more alike than my dad and his father did! It was also interesting to me that he had named his son Jack. I analysed all the pictures I found to an obsessive degree, trying to find likenesses, and they were there, in face shape, ear shape, eyebrow line, and general bearing (try not to judge me too much here!)
I also found some other interesting things. I was able to trace back Charity Whitenack’s line to the early settlers of New Amsterdam, which finally explained some of the strong Western European ethnicity in my DNA results that I was having trouble accounting for. I found that Sarah Talbot was of strong English stock, and possibly descended from the ‘Shrewsbury’ Talbots. I even found that one of my ancestors had been killed by Native Americans which was somewhat surprising to me! That’s not something a girl from the English countryside really expects to find in her tree!
Finally! And the Great-Grandfather is…
Fast forward to January 2018. There really was nothing to report in the months between May 2017 and January 2018, no close new DNA matches, no research discoveries. I’d even stopped checking my results more than once a week. I had been doing some analysis on my matches, because I couldn’t understand, if my grandfather were the child of Hallie or Pauline, why I wasn’t uncovering another set of ancestors on the paternal side. Yet my DNA results stubbornly refused to uncover any close shared ancestors that weren’t somehow linked to the Tolls or the Ledgerwoods. On this particular afternoon, I idly scrolled down my list of matches on the Ancestry phone app, to see if there were any new ones, and almost didn’t notice that dad had a new top match, closer than Bob. When I did notice, I almost dropped my phone! There was a brand new match, sharing 500cms with my dad. And she shared DNA with Bob and Charles.
This match had no tree linked, and her username was not one that I could try and guess to find her name. So I took the only avenue open to me, and I sent her a message. I tried to play it cool and just asked if she had Toll or Ledgerwood in her tree. By the next morning, she had responded to me and wrote me that her grandfather was John Thomas Toll.
That face again…
Wait, what? John Thomas Toll is my great-grandfather. There is no possible way he can’t be my great-grandfather. But how can he be my great grandfather?
I was in a daze the entire rest of the day. And at about 11pm at night, when I couldn’t sleep for pondering this, I decided, one last time, to search passenger lists again.
To this day I don’t know why the results I needed were suddenly there, but there they were. I immediately found the papers I was looking for. The best I can come up with is that the papers were subject to a 100 year rule, and as it had turned 2018, the papers were now available. But there he was, John Thomas Toll, on board a ship that departed New York on 6 March 1918, with his sister listed as his next of kin contact. I found him arriving in Liverpool on 18 March 1918 off the Steamship ‘Cedric’ as part of the 254th Aero Squadron and boarding a train shortly after his arrival. Through good old Google, I was able to establish that the 254th Aero Squadron was stationed at North Shotwick, with its troops billeted throughout the area. Shotwick is approximately 5 miles away from Ellesmere Port, where my great-grandmother lived. He left Liverpool on the Minnekahda which departed Liverpool on 24 November 1918, and arrived on American land on 4 December 1918.
In other words, he was right where he needed to be, at the right time, to not only meet my great-grandmother, but was also there long enough to potentially form a relationship with her.
John Thomas Toll was my great-grandfather.
The one thing I never expected to get from this search was to be in touch with close living relatives, but that is exactly what has happened. My father and I are now in regular contact with his newly found cousin, and through her, we are now also in contact with two of my grandfather’s half-sisters! I met another cousin of mine in person a few weeks ago, and in short, it’s been amazing, they have welcomed us with open arms!
My great-grandfather apparently had a full life; he married for the first time at just 15, and his first son came along when he was 16, followed by another a few years later. By the time he was called for service, he and his first wife had sadly divorced, and then, of course, he had his third child, my grandfather.
Whether it is true or not that my great-grandmother refused his marriage proposal, I believe things worked out exactly as they were supposed to. John Thomas returned to the US and met his second wife, Anna, and married her in 1920, and they remained married until his death in 1945, and they were blessed with several children. If my grandmother had married John Thomas and returned to the US with him, then I would not be here writing this conclusion for you, and my new found relatives would not be here either.
There are still stories I’d love to uncover. I still wish I knew more about the man himself, I wish I could trace his grandfather’s history. I wish I knew exactly how we were related to Charles (I now know exactly who ‘Bob’ is, incidentally!), who I now suspect descends from one of John Thomas’s sisters somehow. I wish I knew what had happened to John’s sister Pauline. And yes, I wish that I met my grandfather, and wonder if how much of this he knew, and whether he’d be pleased that I had traced his family or not. I’d like to think the answer to that was yes, but that is probably not surprising.
I also wish I could have met my great-grandmother so I could have heard her side of the story first hand; sadly she died just a couple of years after I was born and had severe dementia by the time she died (note: my dad would like you to know that I did, in fact, meet her at the age of 2 (me, not her), and apparently she was “delighted” with me. What can I say, I’ve
always occasionally known how to please an audience). What I can tell you, is this; immediately that I knew I’d found the answer, I felt a peace that I had not had since I started my search, over 20 years earlier. I’d always felt this was a missing part of me, and always wanted to know what the truth was about my American side. That may sound really corny, but it’s entirely true.
Special note: Thank you to the two very special Toll relatives who allowed me to use their pictures for this article, it is very much appreciated!