Forgotten stories of losing children

The David Jordan family, late 1889 or early 1890, Guthrie County, Iowa: Floyd Roy Jordan (b. 1880), Emelia Ann (Moore) Jordan (1846), Frederick David Jordan (1889), Floy Temperance Jordan (1876), Lottie Belle Jordan (1878), Collis Moore Jordan (1883), Laura Arminta Jordan (1868), Cora Nell Jordan (1886), David Jordan (1842)

If you’re like I am, when you look at old pictures you mainly focus on the people you descend from. I’ve even cropped out those individuals to save separately.

Emilia and David Jordan, seated, are my great great grandparents. The tall girl is Great Grandma Laura. She lived with my Grandma Leora Wilson, so I knew her until my freshman year in college.

But I’d never paid much attention to the others in this old sepia picture until my mother pointed out how much older Laura is than her siblings. Out came the genealogy sheets from decades earlier, and to find some stories behind this lovely family photograph.

Emelia Ann Moore came to Guthrie County, Iowa as a child. Thirteen years later she married David Jordan, a newcomer from Ohio, who had recently arrived with his sixty-year-old father, who probably lived with them.

David and Emilia’s first child, Laura, was born in a log cabin just west of Monteith, and just east of the cemetery where Emilia’s siblings Jane, Ruth, and Mark had been buried (ages 1 day to 19 years).

Childhood deaths were common in the 1800s.

By the time their daughter Laura was six and a half years old, Jordans had two more daughters and a son, but already all three of them (Cally, Riley, and Rose Emma Jane, ages 1 to 5) were buried in the Monteith cemetery, along with her mother’s youngest sister (age 10) who had also died during the 1870s.

Ephraim Riley Jordan died in 1873, almost 2 year old. Rose Emma Jane Jordan died in April 1875 of “brain fever–almost a year old. Phoebe Caroline “Cally” died the next month, age 5.

Laura Jordan was seven and a half when sister Floy Temperance was born, her closest sister. (I remember her as an older woman when we drove Laura to Floy Cowden’s house in Casey, but then they both seemed old to me when I was a child.)

The Jordan picture above was probably taken when Laura was about to be married, in February of 1890. Baby Frederick had just been born in August.

All of Laura’s living siblings, were still at home, ages five months to almost fourteen years old.

Laura’s husband Sherd had suffered losses of his own. He was the oldest of the seven Goff children–six sons and one daughter. When Sherd was 10, a one-year-old brother died. He was a teenager when he lost two more brothers, ages 4 months and 4 years.

Just two months before Laura and Sherd’s wedding, his 21-year-old brother Henry had been to a winter dance. He rode home on a horse while still hot and sweaty. He came down with pneumonia and died.

That left Sherd, Edwin, and 18-year-old Minnie Belle Goff.

Laura Jordan had taught country school until she married Sherd (Milton Sheridan) Goff. Minnie had also become a country school teacher. Her tragic story two years later is told in “A May Day Tragedy.”

One more story: The baby in the picture is Frederick Jordan. He would be just sixteen months old when his sister Laura’s first baby was born, Leora Frances Goff. (I vaguely remember my mother telling me that Grandma had an uncle who was nearly the same age.)

That uncle, Frederick Jordan, would grow up and marry Rechta Wilson.

When Leora’s grandmother Emelia Moore Jordan was widowed in 1914, her oldest granddaughter (Leora) lived with her for a few months. They went to visit Emelia’s youngest son Frederick and Rechta in Monteith. Rechta’s brother Clabe Wilson was also visiting there.

That’s how my grandparents Leora Goff and Clabe Wilson met.



  1. Our ancestors certainly had hard lives, not only losing children but dealing with pregnancies every 18 months to two years often. Gaps between children in a census often hint at a sad story.

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