What Was Grandma’s Oldest Sister Like?

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, May 7, 1913: Haven’t done much today to make this entry interesting. Besse was out here this morning.

Besse (Muffly) Hester
Besse (Muffly) Hester

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Besse was Grandma’s oldest sister. She was  seven years older than Grandma—and would have been  25 years-old in 1913.

The diary and other sources provide lots of clues about what Besse was like.

Besse was married to a butcher, Curt Hester; and lived in nearby Watsontown.

According to the History of the McEwensville Schools, 1800-1958 by Thomas Kramm, Besse Muffly was a teacher at the Red Hill School, a one-room school house at the south end of McEwensville, from 1906-1909.  She probably quit teaching when she got married.

Recent photo of building that once housed Red Hill School. It is now a home.
Recent photo of building that once housed Red Hill School, the school where Besse taught. It is now a home.

Besse and Curt occasionally came out to the Muffly farm on Sunday afternoons. For example on March 2, 1913 Grandma wrote:

Went to Sunday School this morning. Besse and Curt were out this afternoon.

Besse also came out to the farm alone sometimes. For example, she helped with the cooking and serving when the threshers came:

Was in such terrible trepidation this morning, lest I would have to miss school and help Ma with the work, but Besse came to my relief. So glad I was. I missed those stacks and stacks of dishes for dinner, but have to confront them tonight.

September 13, 1911

Several places the diary mentioned Grandma, Besse, and their sister Ruth having fun together. For example, on April 15, 1911, Grandma wrote:

Besse was out this afternoon. We three kids went for arbutus and I got some this time.

Besse had also faced some difficult times. The previous year she had a baby that died shortly after birth. On April 9, 2012 Grandma wrote:

I was an aunt for one brief half a day yesterday, but didn’t know it until this morning. I was so disappointed when I heard it was dead. My little nephew was buried this afternoon. The baby I never saw. I feel like crying, when I think I am an aunt no longer.

Graduation Day

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 23, 1913:  The work of twelve long years is over. I have long looked forward to this. My last day at high school. It has come and with it a mixture of sadness and pleasure.

Two of my cousins came on the train to attend commencement. I had quite a time getting dressed, for buttons were bound to come off and strings to break.

At last I arrived at the church. We marched in and so on up to the front of the church, where we took seats in uncomfortable chairs and managed to sit out the evening. I recited my essay without a mental breakdown and then at last all was over, after which came congratulations and well wishes.

I am quite pleased with my presents. I received four today.

Graduating didn’t go very hard for me. I was sorry when all was over.

Succeeded in going to school every day for the last four years.

Helena Muffly (I think this is her graduation photo.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Congratulations Grandma!

Recent photo of the railroad tracks that cross the Muffly farm.
Recent photo of the railroad tracks that cross the Muffly farm.

A hundred years ago Truckemiller’s Mill bordered the Muffly farm. There was a whistle stop for the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick (S. B. and B.) Railroad at  the mill. The mill is long gone—and the road and railroad tracks have changed a little—but her cousins probably stepped off the train near this spot.


This used to be the Lutheran Church in McEwensville.
This used to be the Lutheran Church in McEwensville.
United Church of Christ (Reformed Church)

Grandma probably triumphantly marched with her classmates down the center aisle of one of these churches to the music of the orchestra.  I wonder why the ceremony was held at a church instead of the community hall. . . perhaps the church was larger and would better hold all of the graduates’ friends and family members.


Were Grandpa and Grandma Both at the Class Supper?

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, April 17, 1913:  Our class was invited out to supper this evening. It broke up rather early. My first presents arrived today. A gold hat pin and a handkerchief.

Lillie. Raymond (standing), and Michael Swartz (1913)
Lillie. Raymond (standing), and Michael Swartz (1913)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandpa must have been at the supper—but Grandma doesn’t mention him and it sounds like the dinner was boring since the party broke up rather early.

According to the Commencement Program there were only six people who graduated from McEwensville High School in 1913, and two of them were my grandparents–Helena Muffly and Raymond Swartz.


 In such a tiny class they had to have known each other—yet Grandma never mentioned him in the diary. Why?

Raymond was much younger than Grandma—perhaps he wasn’t on her radar screen at the time.  He was only 14 1/2 years old when he graduated; she was 18. He must have skipped several grades.

Maybe Raymond was really quiet and Grandma barely noticed him. His mother had died several years previously. He lived on a farm with his father. He only had one sibling—a sister, Lillie, who was 12 years older than him.

Or maybe he was smart and annoying. . . .

One place in the diary where I want to think that Grandma referred her future husband was on February 6, 1911:

. . . Got too close to the stove pipe at school today and burned my hand. Didn’t feel very good. Put some black on a kid’s face, and then he put some on mine. I tried to prevent him. Got my arm scratched and tore my waist.  . .

It  almost  seems like the two students were trying to get each others attention, and that maybe they  liked each other just a little. Grandpa would have seemed like a kid at the time. . .could it have been him?

I’m probably imagining things. . .

Picture of Grandma Wearing Granduation Dress

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, April 3, 1913:  My graduating dress is almost done. I think it will be very pretty.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sometimes I almost tingle when I have a picture of something that Grandma was writing about. Today is one of those days.

I think that this photo is Grandma’s graduation picture—and that she is wearing her graduation dress.

A seamstress in McEwenville was making the dress for her. In a previous diary entry, she described it a plain white batiste dress trimmed with lace insertion and edging.

(This picture is also posted in the People category—see tab above.)

What Happened to Jimmie Muffly?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, December 29, 1912:  Went to Sunday School this afternoon. Jimmie went along.

Jimmie Muffly, circa 1913
Jimmie Muffly, circa 1913
Jim Muffly, 1983
Jim Muffly, 1983

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Jimmie was Grandma’ brother.  On pictures, he looks like an adorable (though probably slightly spoiled child).

Jimmie was the only son in the family and by far the youngest child.  In 1912, Grandma’s oldest sister Besse was 24 and married. The next sister, Ruth lived at home, and was a teacher at a nearby one-room school house. Grandma (Helena) was 17-years –old.  And, Jimmie was 7-years-old.—a full ten years younger than Grandma.

One fun thing about doing family history research is that I often know what happened to the people in the diary.

In Jimmie’s case, he went to the University of Pennsylvania and then became a veterinarian  in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Lewisburg is about 10 miles from McEwensville.  Much of his veterinary work involved taking care of farm animals.

Jimmie–known as Jim as an adult– married twice, but never had any children.  His first wife died many years ago. Jim died in 1988. His second wife Ruth (she had the same name as his sister) died  in 2010 at the age of 99.  Her obituary is available in the online version of the Sunbury Daily Item.

Homer Derr: An Uncle Who Lived South Dakota and Other Interesting Places

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, August 27, 1912:Our company came today. Didn’t study very much this evening.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Who came? And, why were they four days—4 days!!!—late?

On Saturday, August 24 Grandma had written:

We’ve been expecting company for the last several days, but it seems to be as if they aren’t coming. It seems to be the luck around here.

The guest(s) must have come from a great distance. .  . Did they come by train?

I suppose that all of the plans had been made by exchanging letters—and that when there was a delay the guests had been unable to inform the Muffly’s of the change in plans.

The visitors could have been anyone. (Grandma—How could you possibly have forgotten to write in your diary the names of visitors who apparently came from afar?)

I do know that Grandma’s mother’s (Phoebe Derr Muffly) had a brother, Homer Munro Derr,  who lived in South Dakota in 1910. He was the family adventurer and academic. Homer was ten years younger than Phoebe.

According to information posted on the Rootsweb site:

In the 1910 Census, Homer Munro Derr, was a college professor at Brookings, South Dakota. The Rootweb site also indicates that:

February 5, 1872—Born in Pennsylvania

1900—School teacher, Manhattan, New York

1904—Physics professor, Epworth College, Oklahoma

1910—College professor, Brookings, South Dakota

1920—Engineer for the state, Minneapolis, Minnesota

1930—Mathematics Professor, Montgomery (Fayette County), West Virginia

May 31, 1958—Died in Los Angeles, California

Homer was married to Anna and in 1910 had one daughter, Coralie. They later had a second child, Steven.

And, here is the picture I “clipped”  Homer out of. It also shows Grandma’s mother Phoebe, their parents, and other siblings.

John and Sarah Derr Family. Taken about 1900. L to R. Front Row: John, Annie (Derr) Van Sant, Sarah. Back Row: Miles, Fuller, Alice (Derr) Krumm, Elmer, Phoebe (Derr) Muffly, Judson, Homer

An aside—If I’d cleaned and cooked for guests on Saturday, I won’t still be prepared the following Wednesday. I guess people were just more flexible back then.

Aunt Died: Mary Feinour Obituary

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Saturday, July 20, 1912:  Today seem oh so lonesome and sad. Ma and Pa went to attend a funeral. The deceased was my aunt. We kiddies kept house and did the little duties that were left to us.

Mary Feinour Obituary. Source: Milton Evening Standard (July 19, 1912). Click to enlarge.




Mrs. Mary Feinour, widow of Mathias Feinour, died yesterday afternoon at 12:30 o’clock, at the home of her brothers, Samuel and George Muffley, at Ottawa, Limestone township Montour county, following an illness of several months, part of which time she was in a hospital at Williamsport.

Mrs. Feinour was aged 56 years. She is survived by a son, Edward Duglas. Also by the following brothers and sisters: Dr.Oscar Muffley, of Turbotville; Albert, of Watsontow; Asher, of Pottsgrove; and Samuel and George, at whose home she died; Mrs. George Walters, of Montandon, and Mrs. Samuel Rhone, of McEwensville.

The funeral will take place tomorrow morning at ten o’clock from the home at Ottawa. Interment will be made at Watontown.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The aunt who died was Mary Feinour. She was a sister of Grandma’s father Albert.

She must have been reasonably prominent because her obituary was at the top center of the front page of the Milton Evening Standard—yet I feel like she’d had a difficult life.

Mary was a widow who lived with her two bachelor brothers. According to the 1910 census her two children, 19-year-old S. Kathryn and 14-year-old John, were also part of the household. But the obituary only mentions one child–Edward. (Something seems inconsistent between the census and the obituary, but nonetheless I wonder if she had a daughter who died.)

Mary is buried next to her parents in the Watsontown Cemetery. I do not know where her husband is buried.

(I’m not even sure how her name is spelled, it’s Feinour in the obituary and Fienour on the gravestone.)

I’ve been fascinated by Mary for awhile–though Grandma’s diary entries always focused on her unmarried uncles and not on Mary. I’ve mentioned Mary in two previous posts:

Two Bachelor Uncles

Went Visiting: Only One Uncle at Home

I asked my father if he knew anything about Mary or her children. He didn’t.

Mary is very tangential to my genealogical research. Yet, ever since I first saw her tombstone—and realized that she wasn’t buried next to her husband–I’ve wanted to know more about her.

I know it’s a rabbit hole and I don’t have the time to do extensive research on Mary—but maybe, just maybe, someday I’ll learn more of her story. If I ever do, I’ll share it with you.