A Perplexing Ancestor

This troubled ancestor is an enigma to me, even though she looks calm and sedate in the only picture I’ve seen of her.


Georgia Ann (Williams) Wilson was buried–a hundred years ago last month–in the Guthrie County’s Morrisburg Cemetery, without a headstone for over five decades. And not with her husband in the Wilson plot at Coon Rapids.

Her decline in later years is as much a puzzle as were her scandalous young adult years. I think she is my only divorced ancestor, in an era when it was uncommon.

Georgia was one of four daughters of Samuel and Martha Williams, who homesteaded in Jackson Township, Guthrie County, in 1854–along with Samuel’s parents. They were early and devout members of the Morrisburg Christian Church.


Georgia Ann married a man named Frank Davis when she was 17. Baby Fred Davis was born the next year. They divorced. No clues as to why, only guesses, but Georgia and little Fred probably ended up living with her parents.

Five years later, she married Daniel Wilson, four years her junior. Dan evidently didn’t want to raise another man’s son, so Fred grew up with his grandparents. 

Dan and Georgia had a son of their own, Clabe Wilson, who as he grew into his father’s farm and purebred Duroc Jersey hog operation. Two sisters were born next, then no more children for a dozen years until two more sisters were born.


Dan Wilson had an attack of apoplexy, then three months later a “stroke of paralysis,” when son Clabe was about 19, and the youngest sister just a baby. The two older sisters were married that year. Dan, probably an alcoholic, died two years later at Clarinda State Hospital, age 41. Georgia must have slipped into a depression because Clabe took care of the two little sisters, diapering the youngest. Georgia moved into the town of Panora, where her house still stands.

stroke (2)

But she also spent some time at The Retreat in Des Moines, a place where a woman with mental health issues could live with her children.


By the time Georgia Wilson died, also at Clarinda State Hospital, her younger daughters were 10 and 14. Clabe was married and had two sons of his own.


The youngest daughter lived with Clabe and Leora for a time, but ended up living with one of her older sisters in Colorado. The teenager had a Guthrie Center guardian so she could live and go to school there.

Except for Clabe’s side of the Dan Wilson family tree, the other branches are sparse. There are pictures of Clabe’s sisters visiting him while they lived in Dexter, and a few letters (especially when the sisters were little), but that’s about all.

Georgia’s history was certainly a troubled one. Was it poor choices in her young life that led to this? 

Her son Clabe became a soft-hearted parent. During the Depression, a neighbor offered them the cutest puppy with little white paws. This neighbor’s purebred bulldog had given birth to this mixed-breed pup. Only two dollars. It was hard enough these days to feed the five kids still at home. They’d have to ask their dad.

By the time Clabe got home, the kids were pretty attached to the puppy. He said it would just cost too much to feed it. Doris, a senior in high school, began to cry. So did Dale, a freshman.

“Okay,” Clabe said. “You can’t fight tears. If you can get the dog for a dollar you can keep it.”

But I noticed another legacy of Georgia Wilson’s life. Look at pictures of Clabe’s own family. He’s usually the one holding the baby.

family (1)
Back: Clabe (holding baby Junior) and Leora. Kids in front: Delbert, Danny, Dale, Doris, Darlene, Donald. At the Hemphill farm SE of Dexter, 1925.



  1. This is fascinating. So many of us now are left with old photographs and no-one left to tell us about them. What will happen to all the digital pictures stored on computers these days, I wonder.


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