Kenneth Westhues
Homepage

Index of resources on Conran-Whitman-Oser family history

The family of origin of

Bertha Whitman Conran (1876-1915)


Kenneth Westhues
, Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo, Canada
Published online in January 2022, as part of Conran-Whitman-Oser family history

Bertha Whitman stands at the back, far left, in this portrait of her family of origin, taken about 1901. Her parents, Missouri Stewart Whitman and Samuel S. Whitman, are seated in front at right. The two youngest boys, William S. (Willy) and Thomas Dewitt (Witt), are seated on either side of their mother. The two boys standing are James A. and John S. I am not sure which is which among Bertha's four sisters: Annie, Lora, Clara, and Effie. Two of Missouri and Samuel's eleven children had died earlier: Ida (1866-1880) and Lula (1883-1897).
 
 
 

In Montgomery County, Missouri, in 1892, Bertha Lee Whitman, 16 years of age, penned a feminist manifesto. Her teacher saved it, but it was lost until 1935. Click here to read Bertha's "Essay on Girls' Rights."

Preface

On my mother's side of our family, I grew up with three networks of extended kin: the Conrans (Mom's father's people), the Osers (Mom's step-mother's people), and the Whitmans (Mom's birth mother's people). This webpage is about the Whitmans. My life was entangled with aunts, uncles, and cousins in all three networks (not to mention the networks on my father's side), but my contacts were fewest with the Whitmans. None of the Whitmans lived around Glasgow, Grandma Bertha was long dead, and Grandpa John had remarried. No surprise that my family's ties to the Whitmans had loosened over time. Even so, when a health crisis befell me in September of 1957, Mom called on a Whitman relative for help, and this led to a rich educational experience in my young life.

The following five sections present basic information about the family of Samuel and Missouri Stewart Whitman, and show its relevance to the family their daughter Bertha created with a farmboy neighbor named John Conran:

  1. Whitman family culture;
  2. The scourge of tuberculosis;
  3. How Aunt Ollie Whitman introduced me to Evangelical Protestantism;
  4. The Whitman family's Lincoln ancestry;
  5. Samuel and Missouri Whitman's family tree.


Whitman family culture

In the face of rebellion by South Carolina and other southern states, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call to arms in April 1861, a request for 75,000 volunteers to help the standing army restore order. It is not hard to understand why Sam Whitman, a 17-year-old growing up on a farm near Xenia, Illinois, answered that call. Sam not only lived in the President's home state, he was the President's cousin, great-grandson of the President's Uncle Josiah. He was the third of ten children in a family much like the one Abraham had grown up in: British-origin but deeply rooted in America, fiercely patriotic, Protestant, rural, plain, plainspoken, hardscrabble, egalitarian, poor. Sam's father and two of his brothers also fought for the Union in the Civil War. His father died in it from disease. I remember my Grandpa John Conran, Sam Whitman's son-in-law, describing the Whitmans as blue-bellied Yankees.

Sam Whitman was wounded in battle but survived with a limp. He was discharged on September 27, 1864, three years and two days after he joined up. Instead of settling again in his hometown of Xenia, he moved to Johnson County, Missouri, not far from the Kansas border. That area had suffered terribly during the Missouri-Kansas border war and subsequent guerrilla raids. It may be that farmland was cheap and available there once the war ended. Or possibly it was love for Missouri Stewart, a girl who lived there, that made Sam Whitman want to stay. In any case, Sam and Missouri were married in Johnson County on November 5, 1865. He was 21 years old, she 17. They settled on a farm there. By 1870, they had moved to Montgomery County, Missouri.

The families of James and Ann Conran (John Conran's parents) and of Sam and Missouri Whitman (Bertha Whitman's parents) were thus both newcomers to Montgomery County, families that moved in after the Civil War. The Conrans were Irish Catholic immigrants to America. The Whitmans were sons and daughters of the American Revolution. The Conran farm lay just north of High Hill. The Whitman farm was a few miles farther north, near the hamlet of Price's Branch.

By available evidence, the divide was deep at that time between the county's immigrant Catholic population and the old American Protestants. Breaching that divide, John Conran and Bertha Whitman fell in love. The story told to me as a boy was that John (or Jack, as Bertha called him) was terrified that Bertha's father would refuse to bless their marriage. He rode his horse over to the Whitman farm and found Sam working outside. He jumped down from the horse and blurted, "I want to marry Bertha." Then fright got the best of him. Before Sam could reply, the young Irish farmer leapt back on his horse and galloped away. As things turned out, the Whitman parents were no less approving of the match than the Conran parents were.


The scourge of tuberculosis

It is fitting that I write this account of the family of Sam and Missouri Whitman during the coronavirus epidemic that began in 2020. That is because their family suffered grievous losses during the epidemic of tuberculosis that plagued much of the world, America not least, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Between 1900 and 1910, one issue after another of the Montgomery Tribune, the weekly newspaper of the county seat, reported on efforts to address this crisis of public health, from state-funded sanatoria like the one in Mount Vernon MO to the quarantining of sufferers and hygienic measures for both humans and cattle.

Because many deaths records for Montgomery County during this period have been lost to fire, we cannot be sure that all the early deaths in the Whitman family were due to tuberculosis. By available evidence, however, TB is to blame. The death certificate for the mother, Missouri, gives TB as the cause of her death in 1912, at the age of 64. The death certificate for daughter Annie Whitman Owens shows TB as the cause of her death in 1932 at the age of 64. I grew up with the knowledge that my grandparents, John and Bertha Conran, moved with their three children from Montgomery County to Colorado in 1910, because Bertha had been ill and diagnosed with TB. This disease was the cause of her death on the Colorado homestead in 1915, at the age of 39.

It is reasonable to conclude that TB was endemic in the Whitman home, family members passing the bacteria from one to the next in the routine of domestic life. It remained latent or inactive in some family members while killing others at an early age. At right is a photo (from findagrave) of the stone in Price’s Branch Cemetery that memorializes those four of Sam and Missouri’s children who died first: Ida at the age of 14, in 1880; Lula at the age of 14 in 1897; James at the age of 25 in 1906; and John at the age of 22 in 1907. This stone matches the one for Samuel and Missouri Whitman, and was most likely erected by the surviving children sometime in the 1920s.

Especially tragic was James’s short life. On April 23, 1905, at the age of 24, he married a local girl named Nettie Fletemeyer. He fell ill soon after. On February 2, 1906, the Montgomery Tribune reported that on account of his sickness, his older sister Lora had travelled to visit him in Jonesburg. A short note in that newspaper on March 9, 1906, said: “Jas. Whitman who has been sick all winter is reported better.” Then came the obit: “Jas. Whitman eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. S. S. Whitman near this place entered into eternal rest Tuesday morning, May 1, 1906, at 12:30 at the home of his parents.” He left not only his wife Nettie but their newborn son, James E. There was more tragedy to come. In 1907, Nettie died. The federal census of 1910 shows their son, by then four years old, being raised by his maternal grandparents.

I do not know exactly when my grandmother, Bertha Whitman Conran, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The bacteria were probably latent in her since childhood, becoming active after the stress on her body of carrying, bearing and caring for three babies between 1902 and 1906. But whenever the symptoms of TB first appeared, sometime between 1907 and 1909, it is not hard to understand why she and her husband so promptly decided to move to Colorado’s higher, drier air. Two brothers had died, the first in 1905, the second in 1906. Two sisters had died earlier. Probably, her mother Missouri had by then been diagnosed with active TB. There was no time to lose. So it was that on August 23, 1910, the eighth birthday of Bertha’s eldest child, my mother Olive, the family was chugging through Kansas on a train, en route to Colorado Springs, in the shadow of Pikes Peak. On a homestead 25 miles east of the Springs, Bertha would die in 1915. John and the children would continue to live there until moving back to Missouri in 1918.

 
 
 

 

In Colorado Springs in the summer of 1947, the two eldest children of John and Bertha Whitman Conran paid a visit to Bertha's brother, their uncle William (Bill) Whitman, and his family. From left: John Douglas Conran (1903-1976), Mary Olive Conran Westhues (1902-2003), Olive Harman Whitman (William's wife, 1893-1991), Jeanette Whitman (William and Olive's daughter), and William S. Whitman (1890-1956).

Scroll up for the only
extant photo of
the Sam Whitman
family, and for
the sections on
Family culture
and
The scourge of TB.

Scroll down for
the sections on
Lincoln ancestry
and
Whitman family tree.

How Aunt Ollie Whitman introduced me to Evangelical Protestantism

By 1957, my siblings had all grown up and moved away. At the age of 13, I was the only child still at home with our parents on the farm. Such was the context in which the Whitman line of my ancestry, until then of much less consequence to me than the Westhues, Conran, or Oser lines, suddenly became a lifeline, with lasting impact on my adolescent identity.

Since even before I started school at St. Mary’s, hay fever had bothered me every August and September. This year it morphed into asthma over the Labor Day weekend, just before I was to begin Grade 8. I couldn’t sleep and gasped for breath from dusk to dawn one particular night, probably September 1 or 2. Mom and Dad were frantic by morning, fearing I would die if they did not act fast.

The two doctors in town routinely made house calls, but I do not recall seeing either one that day. I do remember Father William Drimped, the pastor of St. Mary’s, arriving in his cassock and biretta, symbols of his authority in our rural Catholic community. I was lying on the living room couch, wheezing and coughing. Father Drimped advised taking me to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Boonville, half an hour away, for a thorough check-up. He had more faith in doctors than my parents did.

Lodged in my mother’s mind was a nonmedical remedy for respiratory ailments that harked back to her Whitman heritage: escape quickly from Missouri’s suffocating heat and humidity to the thinner, cooler, drier air of Colorado. By early afternoon that day, my parents had decided Mom should take me immediately to Colorado Springs, while Dad stayed home to mind the farm.

Glasgow still had one slow westward train a day, a doodlebug, departing the depot about 3:30 PM. It would get us to Kansas City Union Station in three hours. There we could catch the Missouri Pacific streamliner, the Colorado Eagle, at 9:00 PM, arriving in Colorado Springs at 8:00 AM the next day. I heard Mom on the phone to the depot agent, a family friend. “Don’t let the train leave without us,” she said. Dad drove fast into town. When we pulled up to the depot, the doodlebug was there waiting.

My two sisters, Dolores and Margie, both then living in Kansas City, came to Union Station and sat with Mom and me during our layover. Excitement for this adventure seemed by itself to have cured me. I had taken only a couple of short train trips in my life. Mom asked me repeatedly how I was feeling. I said I felt fine. As things turned out, the asthma never recurred, neither that year nor any year since.

My parents had decided I should remain in Colorado that fall until a hard freeze had killed ragweed and other plant allergens in Missouri, typically near the end of October. The question was where I would live once Mom returned to Dad on the farm.

Mom’s brother Doug and his wife Louise said I was welcome to stay with them on weekends. They had moved to the Springs for Doug’s health in 1942. Doug had recently built a modest chalet of ponderosa pine deep in the woods 20 miles west of the Springs up Ute Pass. They could not, however, keep me during the week. They both commuted daily to jobs in the Springs, and there was no school near their home.

To the rescue came Aunt Ollie Whitman, then 64 years old. She and her husband Bill (Bertha Whitman’s brother, youngest child of Sam and Missouri Whitman) had moved to the Springs with their three children in 1935, probably for reasons of health. Uncle Bill had been a storekeeper. By 1957, the children had grown up and moved away, and Uncle Bill had died in 1956. Aunt Ollie, now a widow, lived by herself in an old frame house with a front porch trimmed with gingerbread on West Pikes Peak Avenue in Colorado City, the original part of Colorado Springs. Aunt Ollie said I could stay with her and attend West Middle School, a few blocks down the street. So it was arranged: I would board with Aunt Ollie in the city during the week, and with Uncle Doug and Aunt Louise at their mountain cabin on weekends.

Mom soon took the train back to Missouri. I was away from my parents for the first time ever, 700 miles away. Staying with Doug and Louise was not the scary part. I knew them as part of Mom’s family, the Conran clan. They had visited our farm. Their three grown children had the same much-loved grandparents as I did, John and Lena Conran. They were Catholic like us. Their parish priest was as Irish as Father Drimped in Glasgow.

Aunt Ollie was a more distant relative, a generation farther back, actually my great-aunt. More important, she was from a branch of my ancestry I had no previous acquaintance with, a branch I had never quite wrapped my mind around: Mom’s birth mother’s people, the Whitmans, old American and Protestant, the people Grandpa called blue-bellied Yankees. Aunt Ollie was the first Whitman relative I had ever met. I was wary of her initially.

My defenses crumbled quickly, so disarming was her kindness. She treated me like family. Mom said Aunt Ollie had smiled so often when she was young that by now a smile was permanently etched on her face. What I learned from her is that the American Protestant mainstream was more admirable than my upbringing so far had led me to believe – and further, that it was part of my own ancestry and heritage.

Aunt Ollie was a more radical Christian than I had yet encountered. Uncle Doug told me a story Uncle Bill had told him not long before he died. Uncle Bill was bedridden. Aunt Ollie had gone out one evening for Bible study. As she walked home after dark, a strange man leapt out from behind some shrubs and grabbed her. “How can I help you?” Aunt Ollie asked. The stranger said he was thirsty. Aunt Ollie therefore brought him into her home and back to the kitchen, served him water and sent him on his way. Uncle Bill had heard them speaking. “Who the hell was that?” he asked. Aunt Ollie told Uncle Bill what had happened and assured him the stranger meant no harm.

During the time I stayed with her, Aunt Ollie belonged to an independent, grass-roots, evangelical congregation of 30 or 40 people called the Lighthouse Mission. There was no physical church. The members held Sunday services, plus prayer meetings on some weekday evenings, in Aunt Ollie’s house. She introduced me to a friendly man about 40 years old, whom she described as the congregation’s leader. She described herself modestly as the doorkeeper.

The front door of the house opened into a hall. The door on the left was to my bedroom, the one on the right to the large parlor where services were held. When people began to arrive for prayer meetings, I would go to my room, close the door, pretend to do homework, and listen. In retrospect, I think their faith was more or less Methodist. They really got into it, singing hymns like “Rock of Ages,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and testifying fervently amidst a chorus of amen’s.

This kind of Christianity was light years different from the Catholic kind I had grown up with. In my home community, people sometimes expressed wonder or surprise by exclaiming, “Great Scott.” I was puzzled by how often Aunt Ollie and her friends used this exclamation, until I realized what they were saying was not “Great Scott” but “Praise God.”

When the service ended and I could hear the congregants chatting casually, I would join them in the parlor. I enjoyed the company of several kids about my age, with whom I sometimes walked to school. We would joke or fool around at the piano.

On one such occasion, a woman who had already left burst back into the house and shouted wildly, “I want to pray and I’m going to pray.” As if on cue, everybody in the room fell to their knees mumbling “Amen” and “Praise God.” I quickly retreated back to my room and closed the door.

My horizon was enlarged that fall not only by living with Aunt Ollie but by attending a public school. Before returning to Missouri, Mom took me with her to ask the pastor of the nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church if he would accept me temporarily in the parish school. He said there was no room. That is how I came to be enrolled in West Middle School, my first experience of public, secular education.

To my surprise and relief, I fared just as well in this school as back home at St. Mary’s. On the basis of my test results, I was placed in an advanced class. My classmates were friendly, well-behaved and smart. A teacher commended me for rising from my seat when called upon instead of remaining seated as was the norm at that school.

In sum, the Whitman ancestry I scarcely knew existed assumed life-altering importance to me in that fall of 1957. In the person of Aunt Ollie as well as Uncle Doug and Aunt Louise, that ancestry gave me refuge from a Missouri season that had made me sick. It let me regain health in the Colorado climate, at the same time broadening and enriching my identity by first-hand immersion in a way of life different from the one I knew at home. I am even more grateful to these kinfolk now than I was then.

Scroll up or down
for photos
and other sections
of this webpage on
Bertha Whitman's
family of origin.

The Whitman family's Lincoln ancestry

Most humans prize being related to somebody famous. Knowing that one is a blood relative of an admired personage tends to enhance a person’s sense of worth, legitimacy, respectability. Abraham Lincoln, as a young, awkward, unknown politician from the backwoods of Illinois, wrote to a prominent man named Lincoln from Virginia, inquiring whether they might be relatives. He was delighted to learn they were indeed cousins, took comfort in knowing this.

Now that Lincoln is himself famous, an icon of democracy around the world, many of his cousins in the present day, even if generations removed, take pride in having him as a collateral ancestor. I do so myself, granting that the pride is entirely unearned. Among presidents of the United States, there is none to whom I would rather be tied by kinship than Abraham Lincoln. The same goes for others in my family, one of whom has lately given his firstborn son the name of Lincoln.

Lest too much be made of the Lincoln connection, it bears mention that none of the descendants of John and Bertha Whitman Conran were aware of it until the late 1990s. None knew that Bertha’s great-grandmother was Abraham Lincoln’s first cousin, Barbara Lincoln Crutchfield, the daughter of Abraham’s Uncle Josiah. Sam Whitman undoubtedly knew this, since Barbara Lincoln Crutchfield was his grandmother. His children must also have known. It is probably because daughter Bertha died when her children were small that this knowledge was lost to the next generation. My mother learned it only in 1997, at the age of 95, when I informed her of what I had learned from genealogists in other branches of the Whitman family. Mom said she remembered hearing as a girl the name Crutchfield (her grandmother Kesiah’s maiden name) but no surnames farther back.

Below is the lineage, generation by generation, from the first Lincoln settlers in America in the seventeenth century to the family created by John and Bertha Whitman Conran in the first decade of the twentieth century. Click here for the same information in a more attractive format as PDF.

English ancestor: Edward Lincoln (1580-1640) lived in Hingham, Norfolk County, England

First generation in America: Edward's son Samuel Lincoln (1619-1690) and his wife Martha Lyford (ca1619-1693) migrated to America in 1637. He was a weaver in Hingham, Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Second generation: Samuel's son Mordecai Lincoln (1657-1727) and his wife Sarah Jones (1660-ca1708) lived in Scituate, Massachusetts. He was a blacksmith and miller.

Third generation: Mordecai's son John Lincoln (1716-1788) and his wife Rebecca Morris (1720-1806) were farmers near Harrisonburg, Augusta County, Virginia.

Fourth generation: John's son Abraham Lincoln (1744-1786) and his wife Bathsheba Herring (1748-1836) were farmers first in Virginia, then near Louisville, Kentucky. They had three sons: Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas. This Abraham, after whom the future US president was named, was ambushed and killed by Indians as he and his sons were working in a field.

Fifth generation: Abraham's son Josiah Lincoln (1773-1836) and his wife Catharine Barlow (1775-1817) were farmers first in Kentucky, then on the north side of the Ohio River in Harrison County, Indiana. This generation includes also Josiah’s younger brother, Thomas Lincoln, father of the US president.

Sixth generation: Josiah's eldest daughter Barbara Lincoln (1802-1842) and her husband John Crutchfield (1797-1870) were farmers in Harrison County, Indiana. This generation includes also Josiah’s son, the younger Abraham, the US president, Barbara Lincoln’s first cousin.

Seventh generation: Barbara's daughter Kesiah Crutchfield (1820-1888) and her husband Conrad Whitman (1819-1863) were farmers first in southern Indiana, then near Xenia, Clay County, Illinois.

Eighth generation: Kesiah's son Samuel Whitman (1844-1920) and his wife Missouri Stewart (1848-1912) were farmers near Price’s Branch, Montgomery County, Missouri.

Ninth generation: Samuel's daughter Bertha Whitman (1876-1915) and her husband John Conran (1872-1955) were farmers in Montgomery County, Missouri, then near Ellicott, El Paso County, Colorado.

Tenth generation: Bertha's daughter Mary Olive Conran (1902-2003) and her husband John Westhues (1895-1970) were farmers near Glasgow, Howard County, Missouri. Bertha's son John Douglas Conran (1903-1976) and his wife Louise Hackley lived first in Missouri, then in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Bertha's son Francis Lee Conran (1906-1988) and his wife Dorothy Hackley lived in Kansas City, Missouri.

Eleventh generation: Olive Conran and John Westhues's six children: John, Jr., James, Eugene, Dolores Westhues Wadle, Margie Westhues Boschert, Kenneth. Doug and Louise Hackley Conran's three children: Bertha Marie Conran Peralta, Darlene, James. Lee and Dorothy Hackley Conran's four children: John, Shirley Conran Parrott, Joyce Conran Morgan, Judy Conran Suttner.

Twelfth generation: The grandchildren of Olive Conran and John Westhues, Doug and Louise Conran, and Lee and Dorothy Conran.

Scroll up for photos
and other sections
of this webpage on
Bertha Whitman's
family of origin.

Samuel and Missouri Whitman's family tree

Parents

Samuel Songer Whitman (1844-1920). Born in Clay County IL. Volunteered for the Union in the Civil War, served under Ulysses S. Grant in Company G, 21st Illinois Infantry, 1861-1864. Met and married Missouri Stewart in Johnson County MO, where they farmed for several years before removing to Mongomery Coounty MO. Died in Montgomery City MO.

Missouri Stewart Whitman (1848-1912). Born in Johnson County MO. Married Samuel on 5 November 1865. Died at home on their farm near Price's Branch, Montgomery County MO.

Eleven children

Ida May (1866-1880).

Annie Cora (1869-1932), Married Thomas W. Owen (1867-1928). Lived on a farm in Montgomery County MO.

Lora Lucinda (1871-1938). Married James Henry Gardner (1853-1931). Lived in Montgomery County MO.

Clara Virginia (1873-1945). Married William King Alexander (1868-1908).

Bertha Lee {1876-1915). Married John Henry Conran in 1900. Three children: Mary Olive, John Douglas, and Francis Lee. Moved to Colorado Springs CO in 1910.

Effie Missouri (1878-1948). Married D. Virgil Sharp (1874-1939). Moved to Farmington, New Mexico, later to Colorado.

James Archibald (1881-1906). Married Nettie June Fletemeyer (1880-1907). One son: James E.

Lula F. (1883-1897).

John S. (1885-1907).

Thomas Dewitt (1888-1978). Maried Mae Wilson (1885-1969). Three children: Mildred Lucille, Charles Thomas, and Raymond S.

William Stewart (1891-1956). Married Emma Olive Harman (1893-1991). Moved to Colorado Springs CO about 1935. Three children: Marion, Manley, and Jeanette.